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Forever Is Composed Of Nows

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Chapter One

It's sort of incredible how much Isabel's voice grates at her nerves.

Felicity hadn't realized exactly how much until the news broadcast was turned off and Queen Consolidated's obnoxious public face was silenced, at least temporarily. Isabel makes her twitch, muscles in her face and shoulders flinching involuntarily. Felicity's not naive enough to think that Oliver, John or Sara miss that lovely little reaction, but they don't have time to focus on her utter loathing of Isabel right now.

They've got much bigger problems.

Her hair smells like smoke and C4 and she's wondering how exactly she can add today's events to her resume. Demolition experience? Too obvious and way too illegal sounding. What if someone actually asks her about it? "It was totally legal, I was… legally blowing a building up..." Corporate restructuring expert? That could work. She should come up with something. She's pretty sure she's about to be out of a job with Isabel in charge and even if she's not, she's not sure she can knowingly work for a supervillain. Especially one that makes her face twitch. That's all she needs, Isabel thinking she's winking at her.

But even that takes a back seat to Slade's plans for the city, his plans for Oliver.

"Since Applied Sciences went kaboom," Felicity notes, thinking out loud. "He can't use our technology - well, formerly ours - for his warped science experiments."

"Slade's had us on our heels for weeks," Digg says. "It's about time we took the fight to him."

"All that'll do is set him back," Oliver says. "We have no way of knowing where the next attack is coming from."

There's got to be a way to anticipate what Slade's next move is, like some algorithm she can write or predictive programing she can apply. This is her wheelhouse. It's why she's here, right? She might not shoot a bow and arrow or fire a gun, but she can outthink nearly anyone, darn it. There has to be something she can do.

"What if we..." she starts, but the words die on her lips as a sharp whir of noise and a streak of red bursts into the room.

She's not even done blinking before Oliver's standing in front of her, crowding her backwards as everyone else instantly draws their weapons, echoing surprised shouts and graphic variations of 'What the hell?'

Felicity catches a glimpse of red before it flitters away when weapons point its direction.

"Whoa, hey! Not a threat! Not a threat!" a vaguely familiar man's voice protests, followed by a small whimper.

The sound makes Felicity pause for a second and she almost moves around Oliver to see what it is before common sense kicks in.

"Come out now," Sara says, taking a step towards the blur's hiding place.

"Totally come in peace, guys, I swear," the voice says again, sounding more and more familiar.

A red gloved hand appears, like a white flag, wiggling.

"Come out," Sara repeats and it - he? - slowly does.

"Who the hell are you?" Oliver demands, one hand in a tight fist, the other keeping Felicity secure behind him. "How did you..." He pauses, and she can hear the wheels in his head turning just as quickly as hers because what the heck is going on? Since when was moving that fast a thing? Oliver hesitates before asking again, "Who are you?"

"Oh… wow, is this the old lair? Man, I forgot how small this place was," the newcomer says.

Felicity tries to peek around Oliver's formidable frame. His grip on her arm tightens, but she's not having it. She's pretty sure they'd all be dead if this... whatever wanted that. He did just swoop in in the literal blink of an eye, all red and flashy, and wow, like their lives weren't weird enough?

The glimpse of the newcomer she does manage might almost be comical if it weren't for the circumstances.

The man is dressed head-to-toe in some sort of skin-tight red suit. And she does mean skin-tight. If it were bedazzled, she might mistake him for an ice skater. But that's somehow not the most surprising thing. No, the most surprising thing is that he's holding a small child protectively against his chest, shielding the little girl from the various weapons pointed at them and cupping the back of her head so her face is buried in his shoulder.

The whimpers are coming from her.

Felicity's heart lurches at the realization.

Oliver's eyes are glued to the mass of blonde curls tucked up against the stranger, and Felicity can feel the hesitation in his touch. He can't quite seem to decide if he should lower his guard, if he should actually trust this... guy. Neither can John or Sara, for that matter. There's an intruder, yes, and that's dangerous in and of itself, but he hasn't made any threatening moves at all. In fact, all he's done is declare himself friendly... and protect a child.

Felicity grips Oliver's arm and peeks around him again, and this time he doesn't stop her.

"When am I?" the man in the red suit asks.

"I'm sorry, what?" Sara blinks at him.

"2013 or 2014. Am I right?" he asks, sounding like he really wants them to tell him he's wrong. When nobody speaks up, he sighs. "This isn't what I intended. At all. But... I guess it could be worse."

"How about less questions and more answers," Oliver says, his muscles coiling. "Who the hell are you? What are you? How did you get in here? How did you find this place?"

"Just… before I explain, I've gotta ask... Did they turn on the particle accelerator yet?"

"What does that-" Digg starts.

"Yes," Oliver interrupts.

"Good. You already know me then. I'm from the future," the man tells them and Digg immediately scoffs. "The accident with the particle accelerator did something to me. I run fast - really, really fast. Fast enough to travel through time actually."

Felicity blinks. "What?"

Her eyes fly to Oliver. He's frowning, and she can see the wheels turning in his head as he tries to make sense of what he's hearing, but then it quickly morphs into shocked surprise and she turns to find the man in red has removed his mask.

"Barry?" Felicity breathes, barely audible.

He's older, by at least a few years, and he's more built, like he really had grown a bit, but he's got the same hair, the same nervous smile when he knows what he's saying or doing is completely ridiculous, the same eyes… it's definitely him.

For once in her life, Felicity is stunned speechless.

"That… is not possible," Digg says, his jaw practically on the floor. He looks at Felicity, like he's waiting for her to agree with him.

"Well… actually…" she replies, voice trailing off as she thinks about it.

Because, yeah, theoretically…

"You've got to be kidding me," Digg snaps. "Time travel? That's ridiculous."

"So's a World War Two era super soldier serum that basically makes you invincible," Sara points out.

"But time travel?" Digg protests, his voice rising as he waves at Barry.

"Uh, do you guys mind toning it down a bit?" Barry asks, rocking the whimpering girl in his arms a little. The sound has Felicity moving without even realizing it, but Oliver stops her. "You're kind of scaring her and she's had a rough day as it is."

Felicity puts her hand on Oliver's forearm with a quiet, "It's okay." He looks down at her, their eyes meeting. His brow furrowing before he relents, relaxing his stance, letting her step out.

"Why are you here?" Oliver asks, his voice edged. "What time are you from exactly and…" His eyes focus on the blonde curls again. "Who is she?"

"What time are you from exactly…"

Not for the first time, Felicity wonders what exactly he saw in his years away… or rather, their years away - everyone else in the room looks like they've been sucker punched, while Sara and Oliver are acting like this is just another day that ends in y.

"It's complicated," Barry tells them. "I had to get Ellie out of a bad situation. It's not safe for her in our time right now, and I don't have the kind of control I usually do over where I end up. There's this other speedster and he's…" He struggles, looking for the right words. "He's messing with the Speed Force. I can't control when I go or where I end up until I defeat him. Which means I can't get her home until he's gone, so…"

"Whoa, wait… you want to leave her here?" Felicity asks, finding her voice again and speaking up as she puts the pieces together. "With us?"

The little girl pokes her head up at Felicity's voice and turns to look at her. Big, watery blue eyes widen when the toddler sees her, and Felicity's heart does that lurchy thing again when she sees the terror all over the little girl's face. Her eyes are puffy and wet from crying, her hair in tangles. She has a scratch on her cheek, like she tripped at some point, and her clothes are smudged with dirt.

"I need to," Barry says, and then he pauses, his eyes glazing with sympathy. "You told me to, Felicity."

Oliver frowns with a, "She did?" just as Felicity asks, "I what?"

"Momma?" the toddler asks, her voice trembling, and then she reaches for Felicity.

"What?" Oliver breathes as Felicity jerks like she's been electrocuted.

"Uh… what? No. I mean..." She blinks, shaking her head. "That's not… I mean… Wait… What?"

She feels Oliver's gaze like an actual weight being shoved against the side of her head, but she doesn't dare turn to look at him. She can't. She's frozen and completely unable to process anything past the desperate, "Momma?" she'd just heard…

Momma?

The little girl lunges forward - towards Felicity - and if it weren't for Barry's lightning-quick reaction time, he probably would have dropped her. She's scared, that much is obvious, and the more Barry tries to keep her still, the more urgent her sobbing becomes as she reaches desperately in Felicity's direction, her chubby, freckled cheeks wet with tears, her pouty lips quivering. It stirs some primal instinct in Felicity that she didn't know she even had - part of her wants to take the girl, hold her and calm her down, but the larger and far more dominant part of her is still frozen in shock.

"I want my momma," Ellie sobs, squirming and reaching for her.

Felicity just gapes at them, still frozen, because what?

"Uh, Felicity…" Barry starts, struggling to hold her.

"Felicity, just take her," Oliver says.

She turns wide urgent eyes to him, moving to shake her head but he levels her with a look, a look that says, 'I know. I know this scary and we have no idea what is going on, but we'll figure it out. I swear.' Does he even realize what he's asking? And yet the calm reassurance warming his eyes loosens the tight band that has been systematically wrapping around her ribs, and she takes a quick breath... because apparently she was holding her breath. Like he can see it too, he gives her a short nod before his eyes slide back to the little girl - to Ellie.

His face shutters as he stares at her. "I don't think she'll calm down until you do."

She can't read his tone, and she really doesn't want to because he's staring at her child. From the future. It's freaky.

"Right," Felicity whispers, nodding and then she turns to take the struggling child from Barry's arms.

Ellie practically leaps into her arms.

"Hey, it's okay, you're okay," Felicity says automatically as the toddler wraps her arms around her neck. "I've got you. You're okay."

The little girl buries her face in her shoulder, her breathing instantly evening out as she calms down, huffing out little puffs of air against the crook of Felicity's neck. As Felicity readjusts her closer, Ellie takes a deep, shaky breath before relaxing against her completely.

It settles something in Felicity too, much to her ever-growing surprise.

It actually feels natural, which is just downright crazy.

Heart in her throat, Felicity smooths a hand down Ellie's head and back, earning her a little sigh. And before she knows what she's doing, she holds the little girl tighter, cradles her closer, and she knows with a vivid certainty that she can't let anything happen to this child.

She won't.

"It's not safe for her here," Felicity says to Barry. "Slade's out to destroy the city and we have no idea where he's going to strike next."

She glances at Oliver for backup but he's staring at Ellie still, a strange look on his face, one she can't read. She frowns at him - is it that strange that she has a kid? He looks like someone told him they were going to surgically remove his lungs.

A thought strikes her and she swings back to Barry.

"Unless you know? About Slade, what he's planning… Can you help us? You know what happens, right? You have to."

"Oh no, no, no, I'm already disrupting the timeline way more than I should," Barry says. "I didn't have any choice in bringing her here, but it would be a really bad idea for me to intentionally change anything else. Trust me, I had to learn that the hard way."

Felicity stares at him, the pain in his tone telling her everything she needs to know. She hasn't known Barry that long - she even thought that maybe there was a spark there, something that...

Oh.

Oh.

Was Barry the father? Was that why he'd brought her back, was that...?

The thought shoots through her before she can fully process how stupid it is - he certainly isn't acting like the little girl's father and he'd barely been able to keep her in his arms, like he didn't know what he was doing…

Still, Felicity almost takes a step back, away from him, because it can't be right.

It's a logical assumption, yes, one that might make sense somewhere, maybe, but the way her gut is twisting tells her no.

She's just staring at Barry and judging by the way he's frowning at her in confusion, he doesn't like it.

Oliver steps up, severing the connection.

"Take her to someone else then," he says, the edge in his voice making Ellie flinch. Felicity almost whirls on him and tells him to watch his tone when he says, "Somewhere else, maybe, where she won't be in danger. To her... to her father, maybe."

Oliver's eyes dart to her a split second, that look back.

"Oliver, man..." Barry says with a sheepish look, staring at him like just his name was supposed to tell him everything he needed to know. When Oliver just stares at him uncomprehendingly, Barry drags his hand through his mop of hair with a deep breath. "I kinda already did."

The entire foundry goes strangely still.

"I… beg your pardon?" Felicity snaps, her hand freezing where it'd been stroking Ellie's back. The little girl shifts in her arms, like she can feel Felicity's discord and she doesn't like it.

She absently realizes how strange it is that she's already slipped into thinking of her as Ellie, instead of a random child from the future who her crazy future friend just told her was...

No way.

"Her name is Elizabeth Queen," Barry tells them. "And you both asked me to bring her back so the two of you in this time could keep her safe."

Oliver blanches. You can actually see his stomach plummeting as he freezes, just... blinking.

No.

No way.

"I'm like... ninety percent sure I heard you wrong and ten percent sure I'm hallucinating right now," Felicity breathes, nodding swiftly, trying to control the sudden rapid staccato beat of her heart as it pushes way too much adrenaline-filled blood through her system. She swallows, barely aware she's starting to hold Ellie too tightly. "Make that more like 70/30, actually. And I'm not... positive that one precludes the other."

"Ow, momma," Ellie says, pulling back and Felicity instantly relaxes her hold, naturally curving herself around the little girl, almost like it's something she does every day.

Everyone stares at her.

"Wow… that's actually..." Sara says with a derisive laugh. "Right, of course."

Felicity can't look at any of them.

Not at Oliver standing stock still, not even blinking as he stares at Barry, or at Digg raising his eyebrows and grinning in a stupidly wide fashion, or at Sara shaking her head and staring at the two of them… the three of them.

Oh... frak.

Instead, she tucks her head down and kisses the top of the little girl's head absently, breathing in her unfamiliar scent, stroking a hand comfortingly up Ellie's back.

She can't think. She can't even think about the tiny possibility that this is true. Because, that would mean...

With Oliver.

"Oh wow," she whispers into Ellie's hair.

"That's not…" Oliver finally starts, his voice cracking. He stops himself and swallows, looking a little pale. "I mean... we aren't… like that."

You don't freaking say?

"Oh, believe me, I know," Barry confirms. "I get a whole speech about that, like, a year from now or so." He changes the timbre of his voice mockingly. "'Guys like us don't get the girl.' I enjoyed making you eat those words later."

Oliver looks like he literally can't find any words to respond to that.

Guys like us don't get the girl.

It's apparently literally an entire year away and already she wants to smack Oliver for even thinking that. But thinking what? They aren't like that. They'll never be like that, that's just... ridiculous. Unthinkable.

Right?

As if she'd asked the question out loud, Oliver looks over just as she looks at him and they freeze. It's like time takes a break, everything around them stopping. His hands are shoved in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, as if he's going to make a break for it the first chance he gets.

"Oliver," she whispers, just for his ears, and he starts at the same time that Ellie pulls her head out of Felicity's shoulder.

The little girl's eyes latch onto Oliver and... she smiles.

In that instant, they both know it's true.

Oliver makes a noise very close to a choking sound as Ellie whispers, "Hi, daddy."

Felicity's chest tightens to the point of pain and she takes a shaky breath because… this, this is right, and every inch of her knows it. Which is insane because it's Oliver and the thought of anything past him touching her arm or shoulder - or her cheek that one time, but she'd just gotten shot saving Sara, so... special circumstances - is completely out of the realm of possibility.

And yet...

A beatific smile ghosts over his lips for a split second, a smile she's never seen before as he instinctively opens his mouth to respond, but then it's gone in the next second as he stops himself, a slash of pain and reticence flashing over his face as he realizes what he was about to do.

Felicity can't read his face or the emotions swirling in his eyes, and she suddenly doesn't want to because the way he abruptly shifts away from them...

He looks like he wants to be anywhere else but there.

With her.

And their child.

His eyes meet hers and she knows the sorrow staring back at her is a reflection of her expression.

Amazingly, it's Sara who saves them both from having to say anything.

"Look, Slade Wilson is out to destroy the city and anyone connected to Oliver specifically," Sara points out. "It's not safe for her here. If he finds out that Oliver has a daughter..."

"I know that, but Zoom is after her throughout time," Barry tells them. "It's not safe for her anywhere, but she stands a better chance here with you now than she does in the future, or with me while Zoom and I chase each other through history. You have to protect her." His eyes land on Felicity and then Oliver, where they stay. "You cannot even begin to imagine what she means to all of you."

He's right. Felicity can't even begin to understand how she knows he's right, but breathing in the scent of her child and feeling the little girl cling to her, calming down from her presence alone…

Well, she's got an inkling of an idea, anyhow.

"When will..." Sara starts, but Barry suddenly stiffens, like he hears something only he can.

"I'm sorry," Barry says, backing up. "I'm so sorry, but I've been here too long already. He's gonna find me. And if he finds me then he finds her, and I can't let that happen."

He's leaving.

He's leaving.

A spike of panic slices through Felicity's chest because he really is leaving this little girl in their care and what the hell is she supposed to do with that? She has no idea how to take care of a child in the best of circumstances but now, with the ever-present danger of Slade and the newly bestowed title of 'mommy' thrust upon her… it's positively daunting.

She takes a quick step towards him, the words, "But you can't..." about to come out when Barry levels a steady look at her.

"I'll be back." His eyes slide to Oliver and then back to her. "I promise."

And then with a blur of red and a gust of air, he's gone, leaving Ellie burrowed in Felicity's arms and Oliver staring at the spot Barry had been standing, his muscles slowly bunching, starting to look more and more like a cornered animal than an actual human.

He doesn't look at her or Ellie.

"Okay then…" Digg says, sounding entirely too amused considering a man had just appeared - literally running through time and making a quick pitstop in the foundry, like he'd just stopped in for coffee - and deposited a tiny human in Felicity's arms before running right back out. "This has been an interesting afternoon."

Chapter Text

 

 

"So," Sara says, looking between Oliver and Felicity, unable to keep the smile off her lips. "Sounds like congratulations are in order."

Oliver nails her with a hard glare.

"That's not funny," he says, taking a deep breath as he scrubs his hands over his face. The air feels like it's on fire as it slips down his throat into his lungs, slowly suffocating him.

"It's kinda funny," Sara replies. He grits his teeth at the grin in her voice and she puts her hands up in surrender, making him frown.

She's teasing him. She's teasing him about the fact that he has a daughter with Felicity - a relationship with Felicity - in the future… meaning they are clearly not together anymore.

Oliver's never had any illusions about his relationship with Sara. They're not the 'forever' sort of couple, and frankly, that had always been part of her appeal. She understood the life he lived and she didn't hold on to expectations for some picturesque future together that he could never have… at least a future he'd thought he couldn't have, with her, with anyone. And while they hadn't really talked about it, he's almost positive she feels the same way about him.

But still, this has to be an incredibly awkward experience for his girlfriend… if she is, in fact, still his girlfriend after everything that's happened in the last five minutes.

Despite all of that, it is still much, much easier to look at her than at Felicity... and the little girl she's holding.

The little girl that's his.

They have a daughter.

Together.

They get together - they sleep together - at some point in the future and have a daughter.

He can't even begin to fathom how any of that is possible past the fact that they do have a child together, a child who is in grave danger, who was literally carried through time to escape whatever mortal threat she was facing from wherever - whenever - she came from, a danger she's facing likely because she's their daughter, because she's his daughter.

His chest is growing too tight, making his throat squeeze and his teeth ache.

"Hi, Daddy."

He feels sick.

"We'll figure it out, Ollie," Sara says, her voice softening and it does nothing to help because Ellie's here and... his.

Theirs.

"What are we going to do?" Felicity asks and just the sound of her voice makes the ache worse. "She can't stay here."

"I know," Oliver says… but that's all he's got. He glances at Felicity, and the uncertainty and fear in her eyes almost has him moving to her again, touching her, whispering a quiet, "It'll be okay," but he doesn't do any of that. Because he doesn't know if that's true, and because Ellie's blonde head is on the shoulder he usually goes for.

Does he do that? Has he always favored a shoulder?

What the hell is he thinking?

"Momma?" Ellie asks, her little voice soft and musical, and it tugs at something in him, something he desperately wants to go away.

How could he have been so reckless, having a child? What happens in the future?

God, he doesn't even know what time she's from.

Ellie pulls her head up and looks around, gnawing on her bottom lip. It absolutely does not escape his attention that Felicity holds her a little tighter, naturally moving to adjust herself in relation to the little girl - to their daughter.

He feels like he's been punched in the gut.

Are they together in the future? Did they just have Ellie or does she have siblings? Are they married? Is he still the Arrow at night?

Are they happy?

Or was the little girl an accident, something that just happened?

Unbidden, an image of Felicity carrying Ellie comes to mind - they're in sundresses and they're both grinning, their sun-kissed hair windblown in matching disarray… he knows without a single doubt that they have the same smile. He sees her chasing Ellie around a park, their giggles echoing around them... he sees Felicity with Ellie as a baby, carrying her around in one of those wrap things, cradled close to her chest as she walks through a department store, looking at curtains of all the stupid things his mind could conjure up... and then he sees her, lying on her side in a bed of white sheets, her hand on her swollen belly, looking so perfectly serene...

Glowing.

Felicity would be an amazing mom.

He's nowhere in these images, and his chest hollows out.

How could he do this to her?

"Where are we?" Ellie asks.

"Uh, well... we are in a place, a place that..." Felicity replies, searching for what she should say. She looks to him, but he's got nothing, and nobody steps up to help. Oliver notes the still-present smile on Sara's lips and the way Diggle is fighting his own grin at Felicity's non-answer. "A-a place called the... Arrow Cave. Not the Arrow, like the Arrow-Arrow, but a... it's a cave. With... arrows."

"A cave?" Ellie repeats, looking around, her little brow furrowed. "Where are the rocks then?"

Oliver expects Felicity to blurt something else out but instead she smiles, her entire face transforming as she cocks her head, assessing Ellie in a new light, and it's another punch to the gut.

"You are one smart little girl," Felicity says. "This is a different sort of cave."

"Does daddy swim with mermaids in this cave too?" she asks and Felicity's eyes widen as Oliver's stomach drops.

"Uh... mermaids?" Felicity looks to him but he's just staring at Ellie, his mind blank. "Who told you he swam with mermaids?"

"Daddy did. Remember? When we went to Hawaii."

Ellie butchers the hell out of 'Hawaii' but it's enough to make his heart squeeze at the thought of him going somewhere like Hawaii… with a family. His family. He goes to an island for vacation?

"We went into that cave and there were rocks and water and daddy said he used to swim with mermaids a long time ago. He said they were his friends and that one was really pretty. Her name was Shado, because she was small and sneaky, and there was one called Sara who was like sunshine."

Oliver's eyes fly to Sara just as hers seek him. Her eyebrows quirk with amusement as she mouths, 'Sunshine?'

He can feel his face turning red.

The only thing Felicity can manage is a soft, "Oh."

Is she talking about the island? Did he tell his daughter about the horrors he faced on Lian Yu? Did he actually cover them up by talking about mermaids?

Oliver's head is spinning. He tries to find words, tries to say something, tries to get back on track, but nothing comes.

He can't breathe.

Silence reigns, but it appears Ellie isn't one for quiet. She's settled more, looking lively and active, the tear tracks on her face fading as she looks around again before focusing on Oliver.

"Where are the mermaids, daddy?" His insides twists as she looks at him with beautiful blue eyes, still a little shiny from her tears. "They need water, they're like fish." She points at a wall, asking him, "Is the ocean outside, is that where they are?"

He doesn't answer. He can't feel anything as everyone - including his daughter and her mother - look at him expectantly.

"Oliver," Felicity prods and it jolts him like he's been shot.

"Uh... no," he says, unwittingly taking a few steps back and jamming his hands in his pockets. "There aren't any mermaids in this cave."

Ellie's mouth twists in consternation before furrowing her brow at him. "Daddy, do you need to cry?"

Everyone's jaws drop.

"Wh... what?" Oliver whispers.

"You look sad. You told me sometimes grownups have to cry when they're sad and then they're better."

Nobody says a word, all eyes on him, and Oliver desperately wants to go back to a few minutes ago when dealing with Slade was their biggest problem. That suddenly seems really manageable compared to this.

Slade.

Even if she is his daughter from the future, that doesn't change the fact that their lives are in grave danger right now, that they are still too far behind Slade, completely unaware of what his plans are.

They have to stop him.

"I'm not sad," Oliver says dismissively, his tone making Ellie pout with disbelief. Felicity frowns too but he ignores her, turning to face Digg and Sara. "We need to find a place to hide her and get back on track. Just because we closed one door doesn't mean he won't find another one."

"And where exactly do you plan on taking her, Oliver?" Digg asks, raising his eyebrows. "It's not like we have a babysitter on retainer."

"Can I go to Uncle Roy and Aunt Thea's?" Ellie asks and everyone freezes again, all eyes swinging back to her. She turns a giant grin on Felicity. "He lets me eat ice cream. He gave it to me in a big waffle cone, but the waffle cone broke and some of it got on the floor and he told me not to tell you or Aunt Thea."

"This just keeps getting better and better," Sara says, chuckling quietly as Oliver glares at her again. She bites her lip to keep from smiling, but her eyes are still alight with humor.

"You can't go to Uncle Roy's, sweetie," Felicity says, making a face as she whispers, "And considering everything that's going on, that's the strangest thing I've ever said... We're gonna go somewhere else, somewhere… else, which we'll figure out. Soon. Like now," she finishes, sending a meaningful look at everyone, but the options are more than slim.

"I can stay here, momma," Ellie says. "I'll be good."

Felicity's eyes widen but Sara beats her to it.

"I don't think that's a good idea, munchkin," Sara replies.

Ellie looks at her, a little line appearing between her brows - and for a split second, she looks just like Thea. The resemblance is so uncanny that it takes Oliver's breath away.

Sara looks at him. "Maybe we could take her to Laurel. She could find a safe place for her."

"That'll be a fun conversation," Felicity says. "'Hey, Laurel, can you watch my child that I supposedly will have with my ex-EA? Oh, and the whole 'will have' thing is the best part: she's from the future! Crazy, right?' I mean… this is something you read in trashy magazines, not real life. Or, her real life, at least, because it is our real life. Or whatever." Felicity looks at Ellie. "Well, it will be our life." She looks at Oliver. "I guess."

Oliver can feel her eyes on him but he just closes his, mostly so he doesn't look at her - he really can't deal with this right now - but also because she has a point. Laurel isn't an idiot, she'd take one look at Ellie and see the likeness, and not just on his side. Just looking at her in Felicity's arms, you can tell they're related. The longer Oliver stares at them, the more they start to look like twins. Ellie's a miniature version of her with a few bits of him thrown in.

His chest clenches, the thought warming him before he can stop it - something dangerous unfurls in his gut and he feels the strangest pull - to them. To her.

It's a pull he's been avoiding for months now.

No.

"We don't have time for this," Oliver says abruptly and he avoids the sharp look Felicity sends him. "We have to find a place to put her so we can take care of Slade. He can't know that she exists, much less that she's here. If she's really my... if she's our..."

He can't even say the word.

Oliver sighs, bowing his head. "Let's just… let's just figure this out. I know Slade, and he won't stop until he gets what he wants."

Before anyone can respond, Ellie wiggles in Felicity's arms. "I want down, momma."

"Oh, well... Okay, I guess, but..." Felicity looks like she isn't quite sure what to do with her as Ellie struggles. She slowly sets her down, but she grabs her hand, not letting her go. "Don't go anywhere weird. Or far. Or... anywhere, actually. Just stay here, can you stay here for me?"

"Yes," Ellie replies in exasperation.

Felicity's eyes widen and Diggle snickers.

"Okay then," Felicity says, letting her go.

But Ellie doesn't go far

She makes a direct beeline to Oliver.

He freezes. He hears Felicity's sharp intake, sees her take a step towards them like she's about to warn Ellie off… but she stops short, just watching.

Ellie lifts her arms up to him with a simple, "Hug."

Oliver doesn't move.

"What?" he says, the word barely audible.

"Daddy, hug." Ellie wiggles her hands in a different kind of exasperation - it's more patient, like she was expecting this, like he was always this difficult - as she says, "You're sad. You got Sad Eyes, like when momma was sleeping after that bad man got in her room. You need a hug."

Her words slam into him like a cannonball and his eyes fly to Felicity, his lungs clamping shut.

Something happens to her? What bad man? What happened? Was she okay?

The questions are on the tip of his tongue but the look on Felicity's face stops him. She's looking at Ellie with a peculiar look; there isn't any fear or concern about what their daughter just said. Instead, it's almost... wistful.

Her eyes slip up to his and he sees it's hitting her just as hard as it is him.

This is their daughter.

They have a daughter.

Ellie steps forward and grabs his wrists, her touch making him jump. She tugs his hands out of his pockets, determination twisting her little face as she says, "Momma's okay, daddy, you don't need to be sad anymore."

Oliver's moving before he knows it - he doesn't know if it's a response to her tone, a reaction to her touch making him feel like he's a hundred pounds lighter, or to the look on Felicity's face, but in the next second he's kneeling down before her.

He's tentative though, not sure how he should...

Ellie immediately jumps into his arms.

Oliver catches her, his eyes slamming shut, barely feeling her slight weight as she wraps herself around him. She's so tiny, so frail in his arms... and yet he feels like she could carry him for miles. Strength radiates from her, encompassing him, and his eyes burn with tears because in that moment, it's real.

She's his.

Oliver slowly hugs her, cradling her against his chest, turning his face into her hair, breathing her in. It's an unfamiliar mixture of strawberry shampoo, something sharp and tangy like battery acid, the smell of a home-cooked meal and her.

His daughter.

Ellie hugs him as tight as she can, pushing her face into his shoulder with a whispered, "Do you feel better, daddy?"

Something in his chest breaks as something else heals, and he nods, an unsteady smile on his lips.

"I do feel better," he replies, his voice rough. And he does. "Thank you."

He sees Felicity shifting out the corner of his eye and he looks up to see her lips pressed together tightly, her eyes wet... and time stops.

This is his future and for that split second, he believes this really will happen - he wants it so badly it burns.

"Well, isn't this the lovely picture?"

The thick Australian accent echoes through the room, almost like it's coming from everywhere at once, from all around them, and Oliver's blood freezes, a crazed panic seizing his heart.

"How sweet."

He found them.

Oliver moves faster than he ever has in his life. One second he's holding Ellie and the next he's swinging her out of his embrace behind him, her startled squeak fading into an ugly rush of white noise in his head as he pushes her back so she's underneath the med table.

"Get in and don't move," he snaps.

She instantly obeys, the sound of her clapping her hand over her mouth and a soft sniffle ripping him in half - she's had to do this before.

His eyes fly wildly for Felicity but she's already at his side, grabbing his wrist in a tight grip as they stand side-by-side - together, despite how much he wants to shove her in there with Ellie - as Slade steps out of the shadows.

John and Sara trade sharp whispers as they arm themselves, but Slade only has an eye for Oliver.

He's in a full suit, one Oliver's only seen pictures of through ARGUS - the most startling is his mask, so shockingly reminiscent of the one he'd worn on Lian Yu he wants to vomit.

There's only one slot for his eye.

"This is a precarious place for a child, Oliver," Slade drawls. "You never know what kind of dangers might appear."

Oliver doesn't answer. Instead he angles his head to Felicity and whispers, "When we attack, take Ellie and run."

"I'm not... I can't leave you, Oliver," she says under her breath. "What if-"

Oliver tugs the wrist she's holding behind his back as he steps closer to her, twisting his hand until he's clasping hers. He clutches her fingers tightly with a quietly desperate, "I won't be able to do this wondering if you're both okay, Felicity. Please."

She's holding his hand just as tightly, and he can't tell which one of them is trembling. She exhales, and he can feel her fighting the instinct to stay and fight, for him, for her family. He feels a stab of pride - this is one of the things he loves about her, her strength, her courage.

Oliver squeezes her hand.

Felicity finally gives him a tiny nod, not missing the fear-riddled, "Oliver..." she breathes.

It all happens in the space of a few seconds.

Oliver's eyes are on Slade and they narrow when he lets out a low, dark chuckle... before they widen in alarm when he sees the gun.

"Felicity, go," he growls, shoving her behind him.

Slade starts firing.

They dive for cover, bullets ricocheting around them, the gunfire deafening in a way it never has been before. Now it's emphasized to the point of real terror, a terror he's never felt in his life, because he catches the sound of Ellie's startled shriek on the edge of the emptying clip, Slade following Sara where she darts across the foundry.

"Go!" Oliver shouts at Felicity as Diggle reaches the lights, immediately switching them off, leaving nothing but dull green emergency lights, casting everything in a garish tone.

Slade drops the gun, but Oliver's attention is focused only on the scuttle of Felicity's heels as she dives under the med table with a harried, "Come on, sweetie, come on," just as Sara shoots up from her hiding spot, yanking the metal bar off the salmon ladder before launching herself at Slade with a vicious cry.

Oliver hears Felicity grabbing Ellie, hears his daughter's broken, "Momma!" and he almost turns to make sure she's okay when he sees Slade catch Sara midair, his hand wrapped around her throat, stopping her momentum so abruptly Oliver fears he's snapped her neck.

Sara grapples at Slade's grip, scrabbling for air under his monstrous hold. He grates out an ugly, "Hello, Sara," before he tosses her across the room like she weighs nothing, sending her careening into a table, scattering everything across the floor as she slams into a pillar with a sickening crunch.

Diggle's already moving, running for Slade, his gun firing.

Oliver shouts, "Diggle, stay back!" but it's too late. The bullets are useless against the armor Slade's wearing, sparks flying everywhere.

"That'd be a waste of your bullets," Slade says with grim satisfaction and Diggle drops his gun, using his fists instead.

The mottled sound of Diggle's fists against metal fills the air as Oliver looks around, needing to know his family got out okay.

He catches a glimpse of blonde in the far corner, a flash of color, and he sees Felicity looking back for a split second.

Their eyes meet and the same rush of white noise surges through him, blinding him to anything but them.

The sound of Slade throwing Diggle into a glass case breaks the moment.

"Felicity, go!" Oliver shouts before he turns to face Slade and it takes every inch of fortitude to not turn and run to them, make sure they're okay, protect them when he hears Felicity's panicked, "Oliver, no!" before he's on Slade.

He wants to look back at her, needs to make sure they're okay…

The clang of the metal door signaling their escape severs the distraction.

Oliver attacks.

Chapter Text

Felicity runs.

She doesn't even think about it really. She can't. Leaving Oliver behind to face Slade is incomprehensible to her, but then there's Ellie. Her daughter. Their daughter.

There's not a question in her mind what would happen to the sweet little girl currently whimpering into her shoulder if Slade got his hands on her. She'd help any child in that position. But this child, this girl… the need to keep her safe is primal, overwhelming in its intensity.

So Felicity runs. She runs with a speed that her high school gym teacher would've never thought her capable of and she does it in three inch heels carrying thirty pounds of whimpering child clinging to her neck.

Every sense she has is on edge, heightened by adrenaline and fear, but even still the only sounds she takes in are Ellie's muffled cries, the beating of her own heart and the pounding of her shoes against uneven pavement as they reach her car and she throws the driver's side door open.

She thrusts Ellie in first, putting the little girl in the back of the small car - because kids are supposed to sit in the back right? That's safer? - and pauses at the sight of the girl's terrified watery gaze for only a second before she turns the key in the ignition.

"Buckle up, okay?" Felicity tells her.

"I don't have a car seat," Ellie says, lower lip quivering as she stares back. "And I dunno how to buckle."

Felicity's heart sinks at that. Five minutes as a mom and already she's failing. Lovely.

"Okay, that's… we need you out of sight anyhow. Can you get down on the floor and stay low?" she asks, urgency shading her voice.

"Like when we play hide from the bad man?" Ellie asks with wide innocent eyes.

Felicity chokes a little at the implications of that. What kind of life has she given this girl? What kind of childhood includes drills for what to do in an attack that are disguised as games?

"Yes, baby, just like that," Felicity manages.

The little girl nods firmly but says nothing, curling up to make herself as small as possible on the floor of the back seat. Something inside Felicity dies a little at the sight, but she doesn't have time to dwell on that. Not now.

In spite of the fact that Slade is possibly after them, Felicity drives slightly below the speed limit and obeys every single traffic law like her life depends on it. And it might. Ellie's surely does.

She can't help glancing back toward the little girl every time the car rolls to a stop. Each time she does, she half expects to see nothing there. Because this is crazy. It is. And, considering the sort of things they go through routinely, she feels like that's saying a lot.

"How old are you?" Felicity wonders aloud after a few minutes when they've disappeared into a sea of traffic that floods the business district on a daily basis.

Ellie says nothing in response and Felicity does a double-take to make sure the girl is still there. What would happen to her if Oliver lost? If Slade killed him? Would she fade away as if she'd never existed in the first place? The very thought of that makes her nauseous.

"Ellie?" she asks again as the little girl peeks back at her with hesitancy painted on her pretty little face.

"I'm not supposed to talk during this game, momma," she whispers with great seriousness.

"Oh…" Felicity replies as it dawns on her that this makes a great deal of sense. "It's okay now. We aren't really playing anymore. Just… stay down because I could get it trouble if someone sees you in a car without a car seat, okay?"

"Yeah," Ellie agrees. "Is daddy okay?"

The fear in her voice is gut-wrenching and Felicity sucks in a breath as she tries to figure out exactly how to respond.

"I'm sure he's fine," she replies finally, which is the truth because Ellie is still here. "Your daddy's really strong, okay? And I know he'll do everything he can to fight to get back to us."

"I know," Ellie replies with a little sigh. "That's what you always say."

"It is?" Felicity asks, ponytail whipping to the side as she looks back at the little girl in surprise.

"Yeah," Ellie says, having no idea how much weight her statement really has. "You tell me all the time that daddy loves us and he'll always do everything he can to keep us safe and come home."

"I do?" Felicity asks, absently wondering how she's managing words when she's pretty sure she's not able to breathe under the weight of Ellie's statement. "I tell you that he loves us?"

"Of course," Ellie says, looking at her like she's confusing her. Probably because she is. "He tells me, too. Families do that, momma."

Her's hadn't. Not at Ellie's age. She'd bet good money that Oliver's hadn't either. But Ellie's family… their family… they've given her that, at least. There might be uncertainty and danger in her young life, but there's a sense of stability, too. There's a certainty that her parents love her, that they love each other. And that's something. Maybe it's everything.

"I… right," Felicity manages.

"Where are we going?" Ellie asks a moment later. "I have to potty."

"You don't wear a diaper?" Felicity asks.

It's a little absurd how relieved that makes her. She really wasn't looking forward to diaper duty.

"I'm three and a half," Ellie tells her with intensely serious eyes that remind her more strikingly of Oliver than anything else about the little girl so far. "I'm not a baby."

"Right. Of course. I know that," Felicity says, as if she has any idea at all at what age children are potty-trained.

Looking around, she realizes she's driven toward Queen Consolidated without even really thinking about it. A quick glance at her phone shows no missed calls - something she tries not to think about because Oliver would have called if he'd beaten Slade by now. All things considered, QC isn't a terrible spot for them at the moment. It has considerably more security than her apartment. It's familiar ground and has the sense of safety that comes with being surrounded by people she sort of knows.

As long as those people she 'sort of knows' don't include Isabel.

She's pretty sure Isabel took the office Robert Queen used to have when he was still the active CEO anyway, which meant different floors - heck, it meant different corners of the entire building.

"We're going to Queen Consolidated," she decides aloud. "It'll just be a few minutes. Can you hold it until we get there?"

"Yeah," Ellie confirms. "Queen Conso- Conso… What's that word?"

"Consolidated," Felicity tells her as she turns down the street toward the monolithic office building. "It's a hard one."

"It's a funny name," Ellie says, nodding with great seriousness. "Is that anything like Queen Inc?"

"Like what?" Felicity asks.

"Like your company, momma," Ellie clarifies.

"My… my company?" Felicity asks, eyebrows raising to previously unknown levels.

"Yeah," Ellie says absently, like she hasn't just dropped an enormous bomb. "Daddy says you're better at being in charge than he was. Aunt Thea says that's not very hard. Do you have any Cheerios, momma? I'm hungry."

"I… No. No, I do not have Cheerios," Felicity says, attempting to process everything Ellie is unwittingly telling her.

She can't remember the last time she bought Cheerios. MIT? Maybe? She's a coffee-for-breakfast kind of girl, really.

"We'll find you something to eat soon, okay? The vending machines in the break room have got to have something," Felicity says, muttering the last part to herself.

She's not above raiding the break room fridge if necessary. Edith from accounting always leaves donuts in there and she's not too proud to steal them to feed her child. Or herself, if she's being honest.

"Okay," Ellie says easily.

Felicity drives into the underground garage. One of the few truly fantastic perks that had come with being the CEO's executive assistant was her very own parking space... although since that position doesn't technically exist anymore - for her, at least; it probably exists for someone, someone desperate enough for a job to work for Isabel, presuming such a person isn't entirely mythical - is it still hers? The spot is empty, so Felicity really hopes that means it hasn't been passed along as someone else's job perk because getting towed would suck. But they're low on options, so she pulls into the spot and turns off the engine.

"Can I get up now?"

"Yeah, sweetie," Felicity says, eyes darting around the parking garage as she speaks. "We've got to move quickly, though, and I don't want you to wander off, okay?"

Ellie nods like she's taking the words to heart, her little face twisted with determination in a way that yet again strikingly reminds her of Oliver.

"We aren't staying here?" Ellie asks as Felicity as she climbs back into the front seat and puts her little fingers in Felicity's hand.

Felicity pauses at the sight of those little fingers placed so trustingly in hers. Ellie's grip is soft and effortless, curling into her hand with practiced ease bred from familiarity. At some point in her future, this is normal, holding her little girl's hand. It's such a small thing, in comparison to everything else going on today, but it throws Felicity for a loop and drives a resurgence of need to protect this child. It's strange, being so instantly connected to someone so thoroughly. And yet… and yet it's undeniable.

"No, we aren't staying here," Felicity says as they get out of the car and she picks the little girl up, as much because she wants to as it is that she needs to in order to move quickly.

"Because the bad man might look for us here?" Ellie asks her, wide-eyed with deep concern as the two of them get into the elevator.

"Maybe," Felicity admits, unwilling to lie about this. "But not right away. He doesn't have super speed like Barry, right? And your daddy's back at the lair - er, the cave, I meant the cave - and he's fighting him, so we're safe, okay?"

The mention of Oliver soothes Ellie almost instantly.

If she stopped to think about it, it might scare her how easily she's slipping into referring to Oliver as the girl's father, but she doesn't. Instead, she glances to her phone to see that she's still not missed any calls or texts and she tries not to let worry overtake her.

Screw it, she decides. She's going to text him. She'll just be very careful about what she says in case Slade somehow has the phone.

"I'm going to put you down for a minute, Ellie," she tells the three-year-old before easing the girl out of her arms.

Ellie's fingers tangle again with hers and Felicity finds out very quickly that one-handed typing on a cell phone is an art form that she has not yet mastered.

'We're safe. On the move. Call when you're able.'

She rereads it twice before punching send and blows some air through her lips as she looks up at the changing numbers that indicate their elevator's progress towards her floor.

"I wish daddy was here," Ellie says in a small voice as the elevator dings.

"Hey, we've got this," Felicity tells her, kneeling down to Ellie's level and looking her confidently in the eye. "I'm going to keep you safe. I promise."

"I know," Ellie says, looking sadder than Felicity thinks she can handle. "I just want daddy."

"Me too," Felicity mutters under her breath as they step off of the elevator and toward the glass-walled office. The city is lit up against the night sky outside the windows, and it's a little discombobulating watching her reflection walk into the office holding hands with her daughter.

"There's a bathroom through there," Felicity says, pointing toward the small room off of Oliver's office as they walk in - what used to be his office, at least. It's been emptied, leaving his desk and a lonely looking computer behind. Isabel clearly wasted no time. "Do you… um, do you need help?"

Ellie shakes her head no and wanders into the bathroom, the door snicking shut quietly behind her. It's only once she's out of sight that Felicity drops into her desk chair with a heavy sigh. She gives herself thirty seconds to feel precisely how overwhelming all of this is before she commands herself to get it together.

She turns her computer on, nervously chewing on the tip of her tongue.

What she'd told Ellie was correct - they can't stay here. But they can't go back to her house either. The lair is compromised. She needs to hide a three year old away from the world and she's not immediately sure how to do that. False names at a hotel, maybe? A very awkward call to Lyla? She quickly dismisses that second option. She wants Ellie on Waller's radar almost as much as she wants her on Slade's.

It's going to have to be a hotel. She can't see any other options.

The Starling City Plaza's website is loading on her screen and Felicity's wondering if maybe a non-descript Holiday Inn wouldn't be a better idea when the elevator dings, announcing someone's arrival.

Frak.

Her eyes fly to the lobby, panic flooding her system all the way down to her toes. She shoots to her feet before the elevator doors have even opened and, without thinking about it, places herself in front of the bathroom door.

Is this what it's like for Oliver, she wonders? Is this instinctive need to protect the people around her how he feels all the time? And if it is, how does he manage that? She's been at this for less than an hour and she's already exhausted.

Her first thought is Isabel - had someone seen them on the security cameras? - and then her second thought is Jimmy, the security guard she always brought a scone to when she made her coffee runs because Isabel would do that, send Jimmy to escort her out of the office, like she's a criminal or something.

Felicity can't say that she's prepared for the person getting off of the elevator to be Slade - there is no preparing for Slade - but she is expecting it.

It's not him though.

No, it's the second worst option she can think of.

Okay, maybe third. Or fourth. Waller and Isabel would both probably be worse than Moira Queen. Maybe. Possibly. It's a close thing.

The crisp sound of heels on the floor precede her arrival.

"Mrs. Queen," Felicity squeaks more than says.

Cool and collected she is not.

"Miss Smoak," Moira responds with that lofty confidence that makes Felicity's flounder. "I was hoping to find my son in his office. He hasn't been returning my calls..." Moira's keen eyes dance over the very empty office. "But I can see he's not here."

"No," Felicity says, visibly fidgeting. "No, he's… not here. Obviously. He's at an off-site meeting. Not related to Queen Consolidated because Ms. Rochev kind of, you know…" She makes a cutting motion and Moira just stares at her. "But you probably already know that, because everyone knows that, because it was all over the news. And because this is, or was… your company. Uh… So, Oliver is around, he's just not here. I can… uh... I'll tell him you dropped by?"

Oh god, she fails at subtlety. She really, really does. She's the worst covert mother ever.

Felicity's eyes dart back towards the bathroom, willing Ellie to stay in there a little bit longer as she tries to think of something to say. Anything.

Words. Speak words.

Moira Queen is a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them.

The older woman's eyes narrow and Felicity gulps loudly enough that she can hear it.

She needs lessons in undercover work. Or practice. Or both.

"Where, exactly, did you say Oliver was?" Moira asks with a predatory focus that sends Felicity's stomach into convulsions.

"I… ah..." Felicity starts, but she's cut off by the bathroom door opening and Ellie wandering out.

To say her heart leaps right out of her chest is an understatement.

"Momma, I can't do the snap," Ellie says, sounding a little frustrated, pulling on the closure of her jeans.

In other circumstances, Felicity might have savored the look of shock on Moira's face. Even now, it feels something like a triumph, which is kind of great, even though that may or may not be a positive thing. The woman always comes off as twenty feet tall and right now she looks... normal. But she can't dwell on one-upping Moira Queen, not here, not now. She doesn't have the opportunity to relish what feels like a victory over the future mother-in-law from hell.

Oh god, did she really just think that?

That's literally beyond her ability to process at the moment, so she hurries over to Ellie instead, kneeling to the little girl's level, helping her with the fastening on her pants before picking her up and holding her close as she rubs a smudge of dirt off the girl's cheek.

"I wasn't aware you had a child, Miss Smoak," Moira says slowly, eyes fixed on Ellie with an unreadable expression.

'I wasn't either,' flashes through her mind, but Felicity has the sense not to say it.

Mercifully.

Instead she stays uncharacteristically silent and holds Ellie a little tighter.

"Hi," Ellie says shyly toward Moira, leaning her little face against Felicity's collarbone. "Who're you?"

The question throws Felicity. Ellie doesn't know her. She hasn't met her grandmother. But... what?

"Hi there," Moira says, a strange softness to her voice that Felicity would not have believed the older woman capable of had she not heard it herself. A peculiar look transforms her face, and she looks so different it's jarring. "My name is Moira Queen. What's your name?"

"Really?" Ellie asks, looking utterly delighted. "My name is Elizabeth-"

"Oh!" Felicity's hand covers the little girl's mouth with an awkward laugh that sounds more like a cat dying, the sound mixing with Ellie's startled squeak.

The mixture of surprise and suspicion on Moira's face is one-hundred percent understandable, given that, really, she's acting like a complete lunatic.

Moira's eyes linger on Ellie before sliding to Felicity, her brows furrowing in scrutiny, a scrutiny that makes Felicity feel like screaming as an anxious pressure starts to fill her chest.

The questions in the Queen matriarch's eyes are far more terrifying than anything Slade could incite, and not for the first time - more like the seventy-eighth time since she's left the foundry - Felicity wishes Oliver was there.

"I'm sorry," Felicity winces, backing away, inching in a wide circle back to her desk, to grab her purse and run. "We just… I'm sorry, we have to go."

"Is the bad man coming?" Ellie asks, worry threading her tone, and Felicity feels like crumbling under the weight of the look in Moira Queen's too-insightful eyes.

"Miss Smoak," Moira says, in a voice that reminds Felicity sharply of her own mother's when she'd accidentally blown up the microwave in seventh grade. "I think you had better tell me exactly what's going on here."

"I…" Felicity starts, eyes darting from Moira to the elevator and back down to Ellie. "It's..."

She doesn't know what to say. Any explanation she can think of tells Moira Queen entirely too much. And that is a terrible idea. A horrible idea. An idea better left for Oliver to handle, not her.

"I know what a mother's fear for her child looks like, Felicity," Moira continues, her voice softening, and Felicity does a double-take, both at the sound of her first name from the other woman's lips and the warmth in her suddenly finds herself really wanting to tell her, tell her everything because it is kinda too much.

She can't though because terrible, horrible idea.

"I've been where you are right now." Moira takes a step towards her. "I dislike that look on any mother's face. Please."

"There's…" Felicity falters before she finds herself admitting, "There's someone after us."

"Her father?" Moira asks gently.

"No," Felicity manages in a broken laugh. "No, that's not… No. There's… Her father did something, years ago. Or, actually, it's more like he didn't do something, but there's someone who thinks he did and he hates him for it. And that man, he would do..." Felicity hoists Ellie closer, her eyes slipping shut at the possibilities… She misses the look that slips over Moira's face. "He would do anything just to make him suffer. So I'm… I just… I need to keep Ellie safe."

There's a long moment of quiet. A look of grave seriousness on Moira's face shows she understands precisely how much danger they're in.

"I'm sure you'll understand if that sounds intensely familiar to me on a personal level," Moira finally says.

Felicity blinks.

The Undertaking.

Was this really how Moira had felt? The reason she'd gone through with helping to destroy the Glades? Felicity can't condone the woman's choices - she never will - but she finds, in light of today's events, she understands a little more the impossibility of the position the other woman had found herself in.

There hadn't been a good choice.

"I've always wondered… if there had been someone I could have turned to, would things have turned out differently?" Moira ventures, raising her eyebrows.

Felicity blinks. "What?"

"Running and… what, hiding out in a hotel?" Moira asks, gesturing towards Felicity's screen. Felicity cringes - so bad at covert. "That isn't the answer. You and your daughter will come back to Queen Manor where our security team will ensure that the two of you are safe."

"Oh, no... Mrs. Queen, that's..." Felicity starts.

"Moira," the other woman interrupts. She smiles and it's genuine, making Felicity falter. "Please, Felicity, I think we're past formalities at this point, don't you?"

"But... you can't stand me!" Felicity blurts out before she can think twice about what she's saying. "I told Oliver about Thea. You threatened me. You said if I told Oliver he'd never trust me again, basically insinuating that you'd kind of help him get to that point, and..."

"Let's just say there may have been a few things I misjudged about you," Moira says. She smiles again. "As well as some things about your relationship with my son."

Felicity's blood freezes at that, the look in Moira's eyes pinning her in place.

She knows, Felicity realizes.

She knows.

She has no idea how or... how, but there's no doubt, not with the way Moira is looking at her, the way she'd stared silently at Ellie.

Felicity can't even begin to fathom how she's supposed to handle this.

The Manor, she wants them to come with her to the Manor… it's not smart, not even a little, but Felicity finds herself wanting to. There's something strangely safe in Moira's eyes that she knows she can't provide for Ellie, not right at the moment at least - she has actual security, and maybe even the element of 'Would they really go there where Slade could probably find them like that?' It's got to be better than hiding out at QC, and a good place to meet with Oliver and then hide...

"Okay," Felicity agrees in a quiet voice, shifting Ellie a little in her arms.

"Okay?" Moira asks, waiting.

"We'll come with you," Felicity confirms. "For now. For Ellie."

Moira smiles, holding her arm out in a welcoming gesture.

"That's all I ask," she says. She waves to a bodyguard Felicity hadn't seen where he was lurking in the shadows. "Sam, please tell Phil to bring the car around."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Oh... no," Felicity says, already shaking her head. "I... I mean, we can drive there, you don't have to..."

"I insist," Moira replies. She appraises them, glancing around. "Are her things in your car?"

"Her...?"

Felicity looks down at Ellie. She has nothing - no clothes, no toys, no... whatever little kids traveled around with. She just has the dirtied clothes on her back, and for a reason Felicity can't quite name, it makes her profoundly sad - she didn't even think of that. She stares at Moira, shame coloring her face. She is failing at motherhood. It doesn't matter that Ellie doesn't actually have any of those things in this time, she still feels it.

"We… had to leave kinda quickly..."

Moira purses her lips - in sympathy, and if this hadn't already been quickly climbing the Weirdest Day Ever tower, it would be now - before smiling again.

"Alright then," she replies with a kind smile. "Let's go, shall we?"

"Right." Felicity moves to grab her purse. "Okay."

"Are we going home, momma?" Ellie asks as Felicity shuts her computer down.

"No, sweetie, we're going somewhere else," Felicity says, following Moira into the elevator bank. "Somewhere safe."

"But the lady said Queen Manor," Ellie replies, the word 'manor' coming out so adorably wrong it makes Felicity's chest hurt. The little girl leans in to whisper closer to her ear. "That's our home, isn't it, momma?"

Felicity's eyes widen, instantly flying to see if Moira heard her, but past a tiny tightening in the woman's shoulders, she doesn't react.

"Let's just see, okay?" Felicity whispers back.

"Okay," Ellie whispers, nodding.

Despite herself, Felicity grins as she looks down at her. "You are one brave little girl, do you know that?"

Ellie's grin is a perfect replica of hers, as is the little head nod she gives when she says, "Yep," like it's the most known fact in the world.

That chest thing happens again, followed quickly by a strange yearning.

The elevator dings, the doors sliding open.

Moira gestures Felicity in first before following.

"We'll call Oliver on the way," she says and Felicity barely bites back the startled yip at that as the doors slide shut.

Chapter Text

Oliver's shoulder is on fire as he pushes himself up to his feet. He can still feel Slade's hands gripping him too tightly before wrenching his arm back, nearly tearing it right out of the socket.

He hears the crunch of glass where Diggle's slowly getting up and he sees Sara's soft grey shirt as she slowly limps past him to the generator. A heavy switch sounds, followed quickly by the lights coming back to life, the harsh fluorescents flooding the foundry.

Ellie.

Felicity.

Oliver's hand flies to his pocket where his phone should be, but it's not there. A quick stab of panic has his chest tightening as he looks around quickly, eyes scanning the floor, ignoring the ugly twinge in his neck and how the muscles in his shoulder feel like they might snap.

There.

It had flown out of his pocket when Slade had slammed him to the floor.

"Oh damn it," Diggle moans, his palms digging into the glass where he pushes himself up. "That didn't go very well."

"You okay?" Sara asks him and he just grunts, swaying slightly when he finds his feet. She's cradling her arm against her chest, looking like even breathing is painful as she looks at Oliver. "Ollie?"

"I'm fine," Oliver says, his voice strained. His phone's off. As he powers it back up, he looks at her. "I need to find Felicity."

Are they safe? Did they make it? It feels like five seconds from when he'd last seen Felicity's blue eyes staring at him - worry and fear telling him she wanted to stay - to when Slade left…

Did they escape?

The thought of Slade somehow catching up to them makes the burning in his arm worse.

He'd barely been there for a few minutes and he'd taken them all out like they were nothing.

What if…

A fist of ice slams into Oliver's stomach at that thought. His mind instantly conjures up an image of Slade towering over Felicity where she's sprawled on the ground, her wrist mangled - just like Sara's - blood soaking through her shirt as she looks up at him…

He's holding Ellie, his giant hand wrapped around her tiny, fragile neck…

The chilled laughter from earlier echoes through his head.

No.

"Damn it," Oliver snaps, taking a quick breath, forcing his lungs to work as the image doesn't go away. He grits his jaw, his phone finally coming back to life. He swipes it open, a dozen notifications flooding his screen.

"Go," Sara says with a pained nod. "We'll clean up here."

"I'm sure they're fine, Oliver," Diggle says. "Felicity had plenty of time to get her out."

Her.

His daughter.

Oliver swallows down the trundle of acid that climbs up his gullet as he blinks at his phone, trying to make sense of what he's seeing. He has more than five missed calls from his mother, not exactly an abnormal occurrence these days, but it's the last text...

'When your mom calls play along.'

What?

It takes a second to realize he's actually seeing a text from Felicity, which means she's alright. He opens her messages and sees her earlier one saying they got away. Oliver's shoulders instantly deflate at that before going back to…

His mother.

And just like that, his phone rings, Moira Queen's smiling face popping up on his screen. A few hours ago, before everything, he wouldn't have answered, but his mother calling coupled with Felicity's text…

Felicity's with his mother.

Ellie's with his mother.

"Oh... shit," he breathes, making both Diggle and Sara freeze where they'd been moving to do whatever the hell they'd been talking about while Oliver had been lost in his thoughts.

Ellie.

Oliver answers.

"Mom?" He hopes she can't hear the urgent thread lacing through his words. The things that had seemed so important earlier are now so trivial - they definitely have issues, major issues that he and his mother need to hash out, but they are so far down on his priority list that they might as well cease to exist. "Is…"

"Oliver, good," Moira says. "I take it you're out of your meeting?"

"Out of my…?" Felicity's text flashes through his head. "Uh… Yeah, yes. I'm… done with my meeting. Is Felicity with you?"

"Yes. We're leaving Queen Consolidated now. We're heading to the house."

"The… house? You're..."

What the hell happened? How had Felicity even run into his mother? Queen Consolidated. She'd gone to the office? Although, at this point, that definitely seems to be the most logical place to go, considering Slade knows who she is, which means he knows where she lives, so of course Felicity would go to the next safest place.

"Yes, the house. I just wanted to let you know, so you were aware of where Miss Smoak was." There is a pause. "As well as her daughter."

Her daughter.

His mother has seen Ellie. The second he's able to comprehend that thought, Oliver feels like he's been kicked in the gut.

Does she know?

Has she seen it? Did she see what he saw when he first caught Ellie out the corner of his eye, a perfect mirror image of Thea one second, Felicity in the next?

The silence on the other end of the line feels like an answer in and of itself.

Oliver's heart sinks. What is he going to say, what are they going to say? 'Hey, mom, meet your future granddaughter. I know how impossible it sounds and it doesn't matter how it's happening, but it's true… I know it's true because when she looks at me, or when I hold her, or when I see Felicity looking at her like she does, I know it's true.'

What the hell is he thinking?

How about a simple: 'This is Ellie.'

Oliver scrubs his face with a silent sigh he feels in his bones. How much more could possibly happen? Everything is piling up - he'd thought dealing with Slade was going to be the worst thing that happened; he hadn't even considered Moira Queen seeing her yet-to-be born granddaughter.

"Oliver?"

"I'm here, sorry, I'm just…" What? He's what? Terrified? Desperate to see them with his own two eyes, make sure they're not harmed? Grateful and shocked and a thousand and one other emotions he can barely put a name to? Oliver goes with the first thing that pops into his head, and his voice is rougher than he'd like as he says, "Glad. I'm glad they're safe."

"Yes, they are," Moira responds slowly, pausing.

He hates every bit of what he's hearing in her voice. It's borderline methodical and it has stomach acid climbing up his throat. His snap reaction is to tell her it's none of her business, that she's done enough and he doesn't need any more of her 'help' if it's going to be anything like what she's done in the past, that he'll handle it. But he can't help feeling a gentle tug somewhere deep inside him - gratitude - that she found them instead of Slade, that she's helping them, protecting them.

It makes him feel better despite the extremely dire circumstances and his mother's already colorful history with Felicity.

Security at the mansion is substantially better than most places in Starling City. They'll be safe there, safer at least than anywhere else.

He wants to go, he wants to see but he can't afford to let them be a distraction from Slade, just like he can't afford to accidentally lead Slade to them. If he knows that Ellie is his daughter… god, he can't even entertain the idea.

And she is safe now, that's all that matters.

The thought that's been lingering in his mind since he realized how very true it all is rears its ugly head again - how could he think it was okay to have a family, that it was safe? How could he subject Felicity to this? How could he tie her to him like that, put their daughter in danger?

Guilt yanks at him, only making the desire to see Felicity and Ellie stronger.

"Okay, good," Oliver chokes out. "I need to take care of a few things so I'll…"

Moira doesn't give him a chance to finish.

"I think you should meet us at the house, Oliver," she says, her tone leaving no room for argument.

"Oh no, Mrs. Queen," Felicity starts in the background. "Oliver doesn't have to…"

"Are you talking to daddy?" Ellie interrupts her and panic slices through him. He can hear Felicity's hand muffling the rest of Ellie's words, but it's too late.

"No, no, that's not your daddy. He… isn't… that man, she's not talking to your daddy," Felicity says and Oliver doesn't have to see her to know she's panicking just as much as he is, with a heavy blush and that smile that shows just how bad at lying she is.

Oliver can see right through it, he knows his mother will.

"Momma, move your hand," Ellie says, and Oliver can imagine with startling perfection Ellie's little hand wrapping around Felicity's ring and pinkie finger as she pulls her hand away, her little brows pulled together in confusion as she says, "Daddy's name is Oliver."

She can't say his name, and it's the cutest damn thing he's ever heard, but it's also the worst damn thing ever.

Silence.

Oliver closes his eyes.

"We'll see you at the house, Oliver," Moira says, hanging up before he can respond.

"That wasn't a good conversation judging by the look on your face," Sara says, her voice still strained with pain. "Are they alright?"

Oliver looks up at her and Diggle, dread draining the blood from his face.

"Oliver?" Digg asks.

"They're good," Oliver replies. "They're safe. They're, uh… they're with my mom."

"They're with…" Sara's eyes widen. "Oh. How'd that happen?"

"I don't… it doesn't matter, because we have a bigger problem… on top of the other big problems we already have..." Oliver says, rubbing his eyes until they burn. He tries to take a deep breath, to make his lungs expand, but they're encased in concrete. "She knows."

"She… what?" Sara asks. "She knows? About Ellie being your daughter?"

"Oh," Diggle says, his mouth forming a little 'o'. "Well… that's not good."

Oliver narrows his eyes at the other man and Diggle just shrugs.

"I don't even know where to begin to help you with this, man," Diggle says.

Oliver's shoulders sag as the full implications of what this means hit him. He can't deal with this right now, he doesn't have time to deal with this right now. He doesn't have a single clue what he's going to say or how they're going to explain it. He can't even fathom a way to explain to her that she's just met her future granddaughter, that he and Felicity are going to be in a relationship in the future, that… that time travel exists and that he knows the kid who can travel through time.

"Oh god," he sighs. "I don't even know where to start."

"Try something simple," Sara suggests. "Like…" She pauses, and Oliver watches the wheels in her head as she struggles to find anything about this entire situation that is simple enough to explain Ellie's presence to his mother. "Uh…"

Oliver just closes his eyes.

 


 

 

Oliver gets to the Manor faster than he'd thought he would. He'd planned on taking the long, scenic routes, going in circles, retracing his steps a few times to make sure nobody was following him, but the thought of Felicity sitting in the Queen mansion on her own, with a little girl who more than met her energy output, and his mother? Oh god, were they in-laws in the future? Did they ever learn to get along?

It's pretty amazing how quickly he's deduced the strained relationship between Felicity and his mother, judging by the look Moira sent her after he'd confronted her about Malcolm being Thea's father. God, the thought of that alone still leaves a sour taste in his mouth. And now his daughter is around her, and so is Felicity, and… and he gets to the mansion pretty damn quickly, leaving Diggle to take Sara to the ER, brushing off their concern about his shoulder.

It hurts like hell, but it's nothing he can't handle.

And it's nothing compared to what he's about to walk into.

Because he still doesn't have a plausible explanation for Ellie.

Oliver blows out a heavy gush of air, and then he opens the front door.

"Felicity?"

Her name's out of his mouth before he can even think. He'd had every intention of walking in quietly, of seeing what was happening, getting a lay of the land, giving himself five more seconds to come up with something, but the instant he'd opened the door, he'd just wanted to see her.

And Ellie.

"Felicity?" he calls again, the door closing with a heavy slam as he makes his way through the foyer, heading for the main living room where barely audible sound comes from the television.

He hears a rustle of clothes followed quickly by the sound of the sofa cushions depressing and then there's a patter of little feet right before Ellie bursts around the corner, running straight for him with a sharp, "Daddy!"

For a split second, Oliver stops, shock and guilt weighing him down just as part of him bursts with the strangest euphoria as his daughter runs for him. Is this how she always greets him? What does he do? Does he swoop down and pick her up? Does he spin her? Do they have a ritual? It's like his mind's slammed face-first into a brick wall, trying to understand something it simply cannot, but his body knows exactly what to do.

Oliver meets her halfway and swoops her up into his arms, her pleased giggles echoing through the room as the words, "Hi, baby," slip out.

He's losing it. On one hand this feels like the most natural thing in the entire world and on the other he feels like someone or something is moving his body for him, going through the motions, scooping her up, holding her tightly against his chest.

Before he can say a second thing, Felicity steps into the foyer and heads straight for him, the clatter of her heels on the floor harsh and abrupt as she whispers, "Oh thank god," before reaching them. "Are you okay?"

"I'm alright," Oliver replies, nodding, shifting Ellie.

Felicity studies him, her eyes roving over his face before she hisses under her breath. She reaches up to cup his face gently, twisting his head to see the bruise he knows is already forming on his jaw under the stubble, something you'd only see if you really looked.

She bites her lip, and he doesn't miss how it trembles, but she doesn't say anything and before Oliver knows what he's doing he reaches up, grasping her shoulder in quiet reassurance.

He's okay.

They're okay.

Felicity nods, taking a breath, and her hand drops but she doesn't stop touching him, almost like she needs to really make sure. Her hand lands on his chest, her fingers brushing over his jacket lapel.

Oliver doesn't notice he hasn't stopped touching her. It's just natural. Because it's Felicity.

"Sara?" she asks. "John?"

"On their way to the hospital," Oliver says. Her eyes widen incredulously and he shakes his head. "They're fine. I think Diggle's shoulder needs some attention and Sara hurt her wrist, but they're okay."

Felicity nods again. "Okay, good. Is Slade…?"

"He got away," Oliver fills in, knowing he doesn't need to, but needing to say it regardless. Because that means the threat isn't over, that he's still out there… and that he saw Ellie. There's no way Slade could have been close enough to know she's his daughter - god, he hopes he's right - but that doesn't change the fact that he now knows there is a child in Oliver's life.

It makes him sick to his stomach that he doesn't know where Slade would draw the line. Oliver's not even sure there would be a line at all if he knew Ellie was his daughter.

Like she can see what he's thinking, Felicity's face crumples with a brand of fear he's never seen on her before, and he feels the undeniable urge to reassure her, to tell her that he won't let anything happen to either of them...

But she doesn't need it, because in the next second Felicity takes a deep breath, nodding with a quiet, "Okay then," as she pushes the fear back down.

Something he can't name fills his chest - she's so brave, and strong, so much stronger than he'll ever be, and for a split second, he feels a stab of pride that she's the mother of his child, that she agrees at some point in the future to go on this journey with him, that she's the one to give him a life he never thought he'd get in the future… As insane as the entire situation is, he knows what a gift Felicity Smoak is, and Oliver honestly can't believe he'd ever be that lucky.

Ellie's watching their exchange from where she has her head tucked under Oliver's chin, her eyes flying back and forth between them. When the conversation lulls, they both miss the frown that tugs at her lips, her little brow furrowing. She grips Oliver's shirt in a tight fist and sits up to look at him.

"Are you going to kiss momma?" she asks, and Oliver starts, his eyes flying to his daughter.

"What?"

Oliver and Felicity ask it simultaneously, their eyes widening almost comically because what?

"You always kiss us when you get back from a mission," Ellie says.

Oliver lets out a choked breath at the way she slaughters the word mission, but they both catch it all the same. He can feel the flush crawling up his cheeks at what she's suggesting and he glances at Felicity to find her staring wide-eyed at their daughter. He can tell without even thinking about it that she is studiously avoiding looking at him.

"Come on, daddy, kiss momma," Ellie says, yanking on his shirt as she talks. This time Felicity's eyes do fly to his and he's startled at how bright they are. "And then kiss us both."

"Uh, well…" Felicity starts but Ellie doesn't give them a second of reprieve. She reaches forward, her little hand gripping the back of Felicity's neck, pulling her closer as she yanks on Oliver's shirt.

"Kiss," she says. "Daddy says he always has to kiss us before he can do anything else."

"Ellie, I don't think we have time for that," Oliver says, readjusting his grip on her in an attempt to pull her away, but his daughter is nothing but persistent.

"Daddy, you have to," Ellie replies. "It's what you do. Kiss momma."

"O-okay," Felicity says, pinching her lips together until they're white. Oliver looks at her, and he can't explain the way his heart jumps up into his throat as she leans in. "Let's just…"

"Yeah," he breathes, and the way the word sounds coming out of him makes his stomach clench.

He's never allowed himself down this road with her, ever. Because she's Felicity and he's Oliver and that isn't what they do. They don't do this. It doesn't matter that the few times he has allowed himself to think about it it's left a horde of butterflies ramming the walls of his stomach or the dreams that have slipped through his subconscious have him waking with a flush he just ignores, not letting himself contemplate what it means… They don't do this.

And yet…

The sound of his blood rushing through his ears highlights the way his heart pounds as Felicity licks her lips, her eyes dropping down to his, and he realizes at the last second that she's gripping his jacket in a tight fist, almost like she's pulling him down to her as she lifts herself up and his arm has wrapped around her shoulder, pulling her into his embrace.

He's holding his girls, and the weirdest sensation of being complete fills him before he closes his eyes and dips down.

It's a soft, gentle kiss. It's nothing passionate or crazy, but that doesn't mean it doesn't take his breath away, that his heart doesn't skip a couple dozen beats, that he can't feel the light tremble in her frame, the soft sigh she lets out before she pushes herself closer, and for a quick second, he does the same, wanting more.

She tastes like coffee and raspberry mixed in with her, and Oliver inhales sharply, his mind working overtime to remember every single second of this, because what if it never happens again? It's perfectly subtle, perfectly them in a way he never thought possible.

It's over as quickly as it started and he pulls back, licking his lips, trying to chase the taste of her and he definitely doesn't miss the way her eyes darken as she watches him before they slip back up to meet his.

"Ellie kiss!" Ellie says loudly, a giggle in her voice, shattering the moment but not for long because she's leaning forward, pulling them both back in and they move instinctively, their lips find each other's again just as they kiss their daughter.

"There," Ellie says definitively. "Now we can go talk to the lady."

The lady?

The realization hits them at the same time and they both jump apart like the other is on fire, Oliver's eyes instantly flying to entrance of the foyer where his mother is standing, her arms crossed, her eyebrow raised in silent contemplation, a quiet look on her face he's never seen before.

She saw it.

She saw everything.

Shit.

"Uh," he starts, hearing the rasp of Felicity wringing her hands as she too fights for something to say, but Moira cuts him off, closing the distance between them.

"I think you should start with how it is that I have a granddaughter and why I'm just now finding out about it," she says, her eyes on Oliver before shifting to Felicity.

"Uh, well… that's… I mean…" Felicity starts and Moira just raises her eyebrows, looking back at Oliver. Felicity's eyes fly to him as well and now he definitely knows he's blushing, he can feel his face turning red, so hot and fast it's painful.

His mind races, trying to find something that sounds better than the actual truth.

He's talking before his brain can catch up.

"It happened a few years ago," Oliver says, and he can feel Felicity's eyes on him as his mind weaves the story. "I was… I was in Starling City before."

"What?" Moira gasps and he's grateful as hell his mother's eyes are on him because when his eyes dart to Felicity, the same surprise is on her face.

He hadn't exactly planned on mentioning that he'd been home before coming back from Lian Yu, much less that he'd seen Felicity. It'd taken him months to remember it and it'd been such a small off-chance thing that it'd just become part of his history with her.

But now… now it worked, in a really awful way.

"It's a long story," Oliver says by way of explanation, causing Moira to open her mouth, ready to argue, but he cuts her off with, "It wasn't safe for me to contact you, but I was here. I was at QC. I'd snuck in for something. She was fixing a computer problem in dad's office and I saw her talking to my picture on his desk and I just… I couldn't hide from her. I didn't want to. And then… there was Ellie."

Felicity's jaw is hanging open and she barely has time to snap it shut before Moira is looking back at her. He hopes to high hell his mother doesn't see how pale Felicity is, or how wide her eyes are. There's just enough truth woven into his lie that she probably sees some inkling of it.

"And…"

But he's got nothing else. It was the best he could do.

He can see the wheels in Moira's head turning as she processes this information… and he sees the second everything shifts.

She doesn't believe him.

"And so you hired her as your executive assistant because she was the mother of your child, who you just happened to meet again in the IT department of your family's company?"

How the hell does she know so much?

"Oliver, you can't possibly expect me to believe that," Moira says. "Felicity is many things, but she certainly does not strike me as someone who would go through all that grief just to show you your daughter, nor does she strike me as a golddigger, as your story almost points to.

"And judging by what I just saw, this isn't something that just came about in the last few months. You have feelings for her, Oliver, feelings that we both know have been going on longer than that."

His mouth goes dry as Felicity makes a tiny 'Meep!' sound that they all ignore.

Moira's eyes bounce between them.

"The truth," she says. "Please."

Silence reigns. It's so quiet Oliver can hear the grandfather clock in the far corner of the house going off, just as he can hear Raisa in the pantry buried in the kitchen, just as he can hear what sounds like a lawnmower somewhere outside.

"She's from the future," Felicity blurts and Oliver shoots a wide-eyed look at her. But she's on a roll, "She's our daughter from the future, where we are together apparently, and our friend Barry brought her back because she's in danger there."

Moira blinks. "Excuse me?"

Chapter Text

"I beg your pardon?" Moira asks, blinking at Felicity with a focus that leaves the younger woman squirming.

Felicity decides she's lost her mind. Clearly. Because there's literally no other explanation for her blurting out the incredible truth to Moira Queen of all people. A nervous laughter ripples through her, because honestly she'd have thought there was no way to make this situation more ridiculous, but somehow she seems to have managed it.

"And… I said all that because wouldn't that be crazy? I mean, it makes the real story sound better, doesn't it? Where we met up… a few years ago and had sex, which I guess is fairly obvious since the evidence of that is right there and…"

"You're a particularly poor liar, Miss Smoak," Moira interrupts, leveling her with a disbelieving look.

"Mom…" Oliver starts, shifting awkwardly and holding Ellie closely in a way that tugs strangely at Felicity's heartstrings.

"Don't start with me, Oliver. You haven't been able to lie to me convincingly since you and Tommy broke my grandmother's vase at your sister's second birthday party," Moira says, cutting him off abruptly.

"Daddy?" Ellie asks, drawing all of their attention to her as she tugs on his collar.

"Yeah, honey?" he asks in such an automatic way that it makes Felicity's mouth go dry. And the way he looks down at her, like… it's like she's his entire world. Does he realize what he's doing, how his entire demeanor changes around her? How when Ellie speaks, he shifts? Or how when she looks at him or moves even an inch, he holds her closer?

The change is so stark from what he was like in the foundry that it leaves Felicity's head spinning. It's like the danger of facing Slade forced a whole new perspective on him.

Oliver Queen is a natural at many things - he has faced every challenge that comes before him without hesitation, letting himself be molded into whatever he needs to be in that moment - but this... this he'd fought.

At first.

But now...

Tears sting Felicity's eyes, a feeling making her chest feel too tight, and she forces herself to look away before the stupid things fall, because crying would make everything better.

What is she doing? Time for random hormonal attacks later.

"If the lady's your momma, does that make her my gramma?" Ellie asks with huge curious eyes.

Bewilderment crosses Oliver's face as he tries to understand exactly what she's saying.

"Uh, I… yeah, it does," Oliver says, with a slightly pained look on his face. His eyes fly to Felicity's, almost like he's seeking confirmation, and the confusion in his face makes her step closer before she knows what she's doing, her stomach sinking. Oliver looks back to Ellie. "You don't know her?"

"Nuh uh," Ellie says, shaking her head. "I have one gramma. She wears lots of sparkly dresses like a princess. My other gramma was gone before I was in momma's tummy."

"What?" Oliver whispers.

Felicity's eyes fly to Moira. She'd already suspected as much, given Ellie's unfamiliarity with her paternal grandmother, but hearing it stated so bluntly and in such an innocent way brings a hollow sense of sadness to her that she hadn't expected. She's not sure if it's for Oliver, or Ellie, or herself. After all, this is Moira Queen they're talking about. Her sins are many and it's not as though they've ever seen eye-to-eye. Felicity's not entirely certain that having that woman in her or Oliver's life is a good thing, much less having her in their child's.

It's one thing to think it though, and another thing entirely when it becomes reality.

Moira's face is unreadable, but Felicity catches the slight quiver of her lip anyway. It's not fear or sadness for herself, but the realization that she'll never get to meet her grandchild other than this… it clearly affects her deeply.

And Oliver…

He looks like someone just sucked his innards out of his chest through a straw as he stares at Moira.

Felicity reaches for him without thinking, wrapping her hand around his arm, squeezing tightly.

He's trembling.

She can't even imagine - he just found out his mother is going to die, and soon, considering Ellie's age… although that leaves out the specific part of the equation of not really knowing how old Felicity is when Ellie's born. Maybe there's more time than they think.

Ellie's studying her grandmother. "Daddy said my other gramma was very, very brave, that she saved him and Aunt Thea from a bad man."

Oliver looks flat-out gutted and Felicity can't help but whisper his name in consolation.

How strange a thing to console him for a loss that hasn't even happened yet.

"He said she was very beautiful…" Ellie fumbles with the word, making it sound more like 'booytiful' and it makes what she's saying all the more endearing. "And that she had pretty hair, like my other gramma, and that she smelled like home."

Moira lets out a disbelieving laugh just as Oliver chokes out a noise, and Felicity tears her eyes away from Ellie to glance up at him; he's riveted on his mother, but Moira only has eyes for her granddaughter.

"Then…" Moira says, her usually even and regal tone fluctuating a little. Felicity wonders if she just imagined the sound of her voice cracking. "I should say that it's very nice to meet you, Miss Elizabeth."

The Queen matriarch looks more affected by Ellie's words than Felicity might have thought possible from the older woman. She watches Moira move a little closer and sees something shiny in her eyes.

Tears?

Felicity's own tears well again and she bites her lip to keep them at bay - part of her feels like she should leave, that she's intruding on a private family moment that doesn't concern her, but the rest of her refuses to budge. Because, she realizes, this is her family.

And Oliver's leaning into her, more than he had been a second ago, and she knows she won't leave for anything, not as long as he needs her.

Ellie bites her bottom lip, dipping her chin slightly, looking almost reticent, and despite herself, Felicity can't really blame the kid - Moira Queen makes her feel way more than reticent, even when she looks slightly more emotionally compromised than usual.

Moira dips her head to catch Ellie's eye. "I'm quite grateful to have the opportunity."

Maybe it's the grownup way Moira talks to her or that Ellie is really realizing this woman is important in her life, but whatever it is has her blushing slightly, a swift change from the talkative toddler they'd just seen.

It's so painfully adorable, Felicity's chest does the thing again.

"Hi," Ellie says a little shyly, curling in towards Oliver more. Her eyes dance over Moira's face and hair, catching on the earrings she wears, the trademark Queen mole on her lip, and… "You have a pretty necklace. Aunt Thea has one like that too."

It's the same one, Felicity's sure of it, but Ellie has no way of knowing that. It looks old and it's strangely subdued for Moira's taste. It's not cheap by any means, but it's understated, with only two small emerald stones in the center, simple in a way that seems contrary to the woman's more expensive taste.

"Thank you," Moira says, her fingers running along the chain. "It was my mother's. My father gave it to her when my younger sister was born. The two stones are meant to represent their two children - me and Colleen. You remind me of her very much, Ellie."

"Is she here too?" Ellie asks, looking around as though someone else might materialize in front of her. Then again, given the way she and Barry travelled this morning, it's probably totally plausible that someone might from her perspective.

"No, my darling girl," Moira says, her whole face shaded in a kind of sorrow that Felicity's never seen the other woman wear. It's deeper, making her look oddly younger than anything else. "I'm afraid she never had the chance to grow up. She had an accident and got very sick when she was… just a few years older than you, I imagine. But if you had green eyes, you'd be every bit her spitting image."

"Spitting is naughty," Ellie says gravely in reply.

Moira huffs out another delicate little laugh and shakes her head before turning back to look at Felicity.

"Time travel?" she queries.

"What?" Felicity asks, blanching. "No, that's… not… possible?"

She looks to Oliver, but he's just staring at Moira and when Felicity glances back at her, she catches the same look reflected on her face and for the first time since she's met him, she notices the resemblance between them. He'd always looked just like his father - the spitting image, to use Moira's words - but in that moment, she sees the same understanding flowing between them, something that runs deeper than words can express and she knows Oliver's just been shoved back onto the path of forgiveness with his mother.

"I think… we should talk," Oliver finally says and Moira nods.

"Indeed. And we will. But in the meantime, regardless of… how she," Moira says, looking to Ellie, "came to be here and the logistics surrounding her birth, my granddaughter needs to be protected, and that's the first priority. What are you doing to keep her safe?"

Count on Moira Queen to declare herself the cool, calm, collected CEO of a crisis giving the words 'epic proportions' new meaning.

"I've known she exists for barely longer than you, mom," Oliver says, and Felicity blinks, still trying to come to terms with the fact that Moira Queen knows about time travel - and how is that again? - but also that they're talking about it like they're discussing what kind of croissants to have with brunch. "So far we've just been focused on immediate danger, of which there's been… a lot."

A lot.

Right, so… Moira Queen knows about time travel, she knows she has a granddaughter in the future that she'll never meet and that Felicity is that kid's mother… but she doesn't know about The Arrow. Yet. But of course, the day's not over yet and with the way things have been going lately, Felicity's not about to place any bets.

"We haven't really had much of a chance to form a plan," Oliver finishes lamely.

"And this danger is from…?" Moira asks, eyes darting between the two of them expectantly.

Oliver hesitates and Felicity follows his lead, because this is so not her place to… lead, or whatever. And it's clear he doesn't really want to answer. He doesn't like giving up parts of his past in general, but that's especially true when it comes to his mother. Whether it's because he wants to protect her, or if it's really because he doesn't trust her, or because he's afraid of her judgment, Felicity isn't sure, but she thinks it's a mixture of the last two that makes him bite his lip like he does when he's nervous.

And then he looks at her, like she'll have the answers, and when she sees the quiet confusion and borderline desperation in his eyes, she wishes like heck she did have the answer, but she doesn't.

Telling Moira means telling her more than Oliver probably ever wanted to, and the woman isn't stupid; she can see right through them - she already has. Slade could've at least given them a few minutes to talk about a cover story, or to fine tune the whopper Oliver had delivered about being in Starling before, which was huge in and of itself. Her inner Oliver-meter tells her he isn't lying about that - he was in Starling City, and that opens up a whole other can of worms, a can of worms they do not have time for.

This entire ridiculous thing could have been avoided if Felicity had just gone somewhere else, anywhere else… but where? There'd been nowhere she felt safe. Alright, it could've been avoided if Moira hadn't chosen that exact time to show up and see her and Ellie. Or if Oliver didn't carry around genes that make Ellie look uncannily like Moira's baby sister.

The more Felicity thinks, the more her brain starts to misfire and she has no idea what to do.

Oliver pinches his lips like he can read her own inner turmoil, but Moira saves them both the trouble.

"Whomever it is," Moira says, taking a second to look at both of them, giving them a moment to appreciate the gravity of what she's saying. "I suggest you take aim at them and eliminate the problem."

Eliminate.

Felicity shivers as Oliver's jaw drops, his eyes widening incredulously.

Moira sees it, a small knowing smile lights her face. "You and I have both taken care of problems for far less, Oliver." She looks at Felicity and then Ellie. "That's what you do for family."

Her words ring through the foyer, and Felicity is once again reminded why Moira Queen is both a formidable foe and downright terrifying. Her emotional landscape is throwing Felicity for a loop - it makes her seem more vulnerable than she is, and Felicity doesn't realize until Oliver moves closer to her that she's gripping him so tightly her nail beds hurt.

It's not fear that's making her do that, but understanding. Because - besides her disturbingly insightful use of the word aim which is fully making Felicity rethink the notion that Moira doesn't know Oliver's other secret - what Moira is suggesting is something that Felicity knows instinctively she'd do for Ellie, for Oliver.

And that is freaking her right out.

"Shall we go sit back down?" Moira asks, gesturing to the next room where Felicity and Ellie had been sitting with her, waiting for Oliver. Felicity's mind jumps to the giant ship in there, the ship she hadn't been able to stop staring at like it was staring at her. It always struck her as weirdly tragic considering what the ocean had done to the Queen family. Moira laces her fingers together. "We can talk about this... threat coming for Ellie, and what we can do."

We.

"Uh…" Felicity starts but Oliver stops her, pulling his arm out of her grasp. A wild flare of nakedness strikes her, like he's leaving her alone under the scarily attentive microscope that is Moira Queen, but he doesn't go anywhere.

Instead, he wraps his arm around her waist.

Felicity really needs to have a sitdown with her body - her dumb heart chooses the most inopportune and illogical times to leap into her throat.

Especially when Moira's eyes drop down as well, catching the movement.

Ellie looks happy as a clam, like this is nothing new. And it probably isn't. To her, anyhow.

"Mom, I need to talk to Felicity for a second."

"Of course," Moira replies with a smile.

Oliver glances down at the bundle in his arms, hesitating. "Ellie, honey, can you…"

"We were coloring," Ellie tells him. "She has a coloring book full of flowers!"

"Shall we get back to it?" Moira asks as Oliver sets Ellie back down. She holds her hand out for Ellie and the little girl takes it without skipping a beat, the shy little toddler she'd been a moment ago gone. "Let's let your mommy and daddy talk for a minute."

"Okay, that is something I will so not be getting used to anytime soon," Felicity whispers as Moira and Ellie walk away, and then Oliver's grabbing her hand, pulling her in the opposite direction. "Oliver, if I had known she was going to be there, I wouldn't've-"

"Felicity, it's fine," Oliver says, tugging her into an office and closing the door. He turns to her, his hands landing on her shoulders as he dips his head to meet her eyes. "I only care that you're both safe."

"Well, great, because we are safe, but I might've accidentally just outed you to your mother," Felicity responds, making a face. "She took that really well considering we just confirmed time travel is a thing, and she guessed it herself! We just learned about it ourselves a few hours ago! I was sort of hoping she'd just laugh it off because of how ridiculous it sounds, but she was serious. She was serious. Did you see her face? She was serious and then oh my god, she saw us kissing and I can't believe how sappy future-us are." Felicity pauses. "I mean, sappy in a good way, because it was nice - really nice - it was definitely a kiss for the books, if they had kissing books. They probably do. That seems like a thing that would exist. I mean just look at the book Madonna put out, right? I can't believe Ellie made us kiss. And that we went along with it! We aren't very much into the discipline, are we? Unless we're talking about that in some other capacity and then mayb-"

"Felicity," Oliver says, his voice sharp, cutting her off abruptly. Felicity's jaw snaps shut as he leans down again, looking her in the eye, his eyebrows nearly touching his hairline and she can see that this is more than stressing him out. And she isn't helping. "Take a breath."

Felicity nods, doing so, and he moves with her.

"Normally…" Oliver starts, squeezing her shoulders gently with an unsteady smile. "Normally I love hearing everything you have to say but right now, right now I'm…"

Right now they'd basically just confirmed that his mother isn't alive in the future, in their daughter's future.

"Oliver," Felicity breathes, reaching to touch his face before changing her mind, her hands landing on his chest before changing her mind again, gripping his jacket instead.

God, she just wants to comfort him, why is she suddenly thinking so much?

Oliver's eyes slip shut for a split second and that same gutted look is back. This time Felicity can't stop herself, and she doesn't want to. She reaches up and cups his face.

"It could mean anything, Oliver," she whispers.

He takes a shaky breath and she tightens her grip on his cheek, forcing him to open his eyes.

"And you know about it now, right?" she asks. "Which means you can stop it."

He lets out a disbelieving little laugh as he shakes his head. "I wouldn't even know where to start," he says, tears making his eyes shiny before he blinks them away. "What would I do, keep her locked up somewhere? It could happen tomorrow or years from now, I don't…" He closes his eyes. "I've spent so much time being so mad at her, but I always thought… she'd be there, as…"

Tears blur her vision again and Felicity bites her lip to keep them from falling. She wants nothing more than to take his pain away, to give him a second's reprieve, to let him just exist without something weighing him down, without the world weighing him down. She wants to send him out there, to send him to his daughter and his mother. To give them time together, time that he's going to be robbed of.

But they don't have that time.

As if he can hear her thoughts, Oliver lets out a shuddery sigh, bowing his head before squaring his shoulders again, bracing himself.

"You should stay here," Oliver says and Felicity's heart drops, the word 'no' on her lips, but he cuts her off. "I saw she doubled the security. There's no way Slade's getting in here without someone knowing something, so it'll give you enough time to run if you have to, all of you. Protect Ellie and-"

"And where exactly are you going?" Felicity asks, cutting him off. "Not even getting into the fact that you're leaving me alone with your mother and our future daughter - whom, just for the record, is only highlighting how very little I know about babies, okay? Nothing, I know nothing, it's a miracle she's even alive." Felicity closes her eyes, wincing. "And by that I mean in that she hasn't starved to death or something. Besides that, what exactly is your plan here, Oliver?"

Oliver doesn't answer for a second and Felicity looks up at him.

He's staring at her, something soft and wistful in his eyes, something that makes her stomach plummet.

"You're an amazing mom," he says, his voice quiet and gentle. "I don't have to be in the future to know that."

"I'm sure future-me is far more capable than now-me."

"But you love her," he says bluntly, like it's the most obvious thing in the world.

"Oliver, I don't even… I mean, I know… she's… I don't know her, and I feel like…"

"But it's there," Oliver says, talking over her. "It's… I don't know how to explain it, but…"

He stares down at her, his eyes as open and expressive as she's ever seen. They're luminescent, the sharp cobalt brightening from a thin sheen of tears, remnants of the gut punch he'd just received. She knows what he's trying to say, because she felt it too, the instant she held Ellie.

Ellie is her daughter. And Oliver is the little girl's father. And it is… perfect.

The air between them slowly grows heavy with something she doesn't know what to name.

"Yeah," Felicity finally says, nodding. "You just know."

"Yeah."

Neither of them move, letting the knowledge of what happens in the future wash over them.

"I always thought you'd make a great dad," Felicity whispers, smiling quietly before replaying her own words in her head and letting the implications of them settle in. "And that insinuates that I've thought about it, but I haven't thought about it, not like that. Not like an us sort of that or… Or maybe I have," she says, waving towards the closed door. "Considering the walking, talking evidence is right out there."

Oliver gives her a breathy chuckle, shaking his head minutely.

"So are we going to talk about the fact that we have a daughter together at some point in the future?" Felicity ask softly. "Because it's pretty… whoa."

"I…" Oliver starts, but he stops himself. He licks his lips, his eyes dancing all over her face, like he wants to say something, but he doesn't. And Felicity finds herself wanting to hear what he was going to say.

But the longer the silence continues, the more the nervous herd of butterflies in her stomach starts to spin faster, crawling up her gullet.

And it only gets worse as Oliver just stands there, saying nothing, doing nothing.

"Or not," Felicity says, laughing. It sounds as bad as she knew it would. "That is so the least of our problems right now, and that reminds me, you haven't shared this grand plan of yours, and it better be good, because if it's something as stupid as storming his super secret villain lair then I'll be pissed."

An involuntary grin pulls at his lips, the same one he always has on his lips when she has a pointed comment about something he's done or something he's about to do. This one is laced with sadness though.

"No," he said. "It's not that. But we do have to do something."

"Why?" Felicity asks. "How about we deal with one crisis at a time? It's not like nobody's out there, Sara and John are-"

"In the hospital."

"At the hospital, you said their injuries weren't that bad," Felicity replies, her voice rising slightly. "Which they aren't, right?" He gives her a slight nod in concession and she continues, "Good. And see? They can help. And I… I think, maybe… maybe you should stay and talk with your mom."

Pain skates over his features and Oliver closes his eyes, already shaking his head.

"Oliver, come on, take a few minutes, slow down," Felicity says. "What if this is…"

"Don't," he says, cutting her off. "For all we know, just knowing about it has changed the timeline. What if now that we know we have a daughter, we never…"

He pauses, realizing the weight of what he's saying. Felicity blinks, taking a deep breath at the insinuation.

"We never have her," Felicity finishes for him.

The thought hurts more than she will ever admit because he's right - this has already changed things irrevocably between them. Even if everything goes to plan, even if Ellie goes back to her time once the threat has been eliminated, even if she's gone in the next few hours, things won't be the same between them, ever. How can they be?

And god, the thought of Ellie not existing… it leaves her feeling empty. Just the thought of that little girl out there no longer existing, no longer coming into the world, no longer being hers - being theirs - it makes her stomach tighten in anguish and she shoves it down before she really loses it, because… no.

Her world's already been rocked enough tonight, she doesn't need it rocked more.

"Well, we don't know that," Felicity says. "It's not like she's disappeared right before our eyes, which means we're still… on track for it. I would think."

"Felicity…"

"No, Oliver, stop. Even if you did go out now, you'd have no idea where to start. Let Sara and Digg heal, let's get you patched up and then we can talk about what happens next. Okay?"

"I just… I don't like the thought of him being out there," Oliver says softly. "Especially because he saw her. And you."

"He doesn't know Ellie's your daughter," Felicity replies. "He might know she's mine, but he can't know that you and I… I mean, we're not… a thing… so maybe you're like… Uncle Oliver." Oliver makes a face and she winces. "Okay, creepy connotation aside, what I'm trying to say is don't assume the worst."

"That's literally the only thing we should be assuming," Oliver replies, and Felicity narrows her eyes.

"While normally I'd be right there with you on the agreement train, this time I just… I can't." Felicity stops, trying to find the words to explain exactly why. Because it's not just her, or Oliver, or Diggle, or anyone else - it's her daughter, their daughter, and she finds herself feeling oddly optimistic just because she wants that for Ellie.

Weird.

"Yeah," Oliver says, because he gets it. He knows. Felicity looks at him, their eyes meeting, and she knows he knows exactly what she's saying.

"One crisis at a time," Felicity offers. "Plus, Ellie kept asking for you." She gives him a delicate smile. "She feels safer with you around. And so do I."

Oliver's face softens, his body relaxing like she's just told him everything is going to be okay and he believes it.

He finally nods. "I'll call Diggle, get an update, and then… we'll go from there."

Chapter Text

They talk to Digg together. His reassuring voice booming through the speakerphone settles something ill-at-ease in Felicity's gut - knowing he and Sara had only sustained minor injuries and hearing her friend's voice reassure her himself were two entirely different things.

"Pinkie swear?" Felicity asks. "Like really you're fine? My version of fine, not Oliver's."

Oliver shoots her a look and raises his eyebrows in unveiled amusement, but it's not like she's wrong. Oliver's definition of fine basically means he's breathing and can physically move. Her version involves a whole lot less pain. None. No pain. Fine means pain-free in her book.

"They didn't even try to get me to take the special aspirin, Felicity," Digg reassures her, sounding every bit as amused as Oliver looks.

"Sara too?" Felicity prods.

"They might try to get her to take the good drugs," Digg admits. "She's back for x-rays now. Her wrist doesn't look good."

"Sara won't take anything," Oliver says with absolute certainty.

He would know, Felicity realizes, considering she's his girlfriend. And… wow… there's a thought she'd somehow managed to entirely avoid throughout this entire debacle. While there's plenty of evidence a room or two over that eventually she and Oliver are most definitely together, they aren't now. And she totally kissed her friend's boyfriend. Regardless of the circumstances, that's not the sort of thing Felicity does and she feels more than a little ill at the thought.

"Have her call me when she gets back," Oliver requests.

Felicity can't quite read his expression. It's serious and a little grim, like maybe he's lightly biting the inside of his lip. He presses his fingertips to his temple as he stares at the phone and she has to wonder what exactly he's planning on saying to Sara. Or has he already? Did they already talk about it after Slade? Felicity really, really doubts that. It's an impossible situation for all of them. It's not like he can be faulted for his future child zipping back through time, but it also is a very sure sign that he and Sara don't work out in the long run.

Or, at least, that they didn't in Ellie's timeline.

Wow, talk about about a relationship death omen.

They still could, of course. If that's what Oliver wants and what Sara wants. The future isn't set in stone. For all Felicity knows, maybe this has thrown into stark relief how much he wants to make things work with Sara. It's not like Oliver's particularly open about what he's feeling. But, oh god, the very notion of him with Sara makes her head swim and nausea well up in her gut. Ellie has to happen. That sweet little girl in the other room needs to exist. And the idea that maybe she won't is enough to make Felicity's hands shake all over again as a wave of nerves rolls through her.

"She's coming back now," Digg says suddenly, breaking through Felicity's thoughts. "I'll hand you over."

Oliver promptly clicks off the speaker and puts the phone to his ear, sparing Felicity a brief, anxious glance as he does.

"Hey," he says softly into the phone. "How bad's the wrist?"

He's quiet for a moment, taking in whatever Sara's saying and more than any other moment since stepping foot in Queen manor, Felicity feels like an intruder. She looks around the office like she's trying not to pay attention to Oliver's conversation. Is she supposed to stay? Should she leave? Is he checking on his teammate's injuries or is he having an awkward conversation with his girlfriend? There's no rulebook for this situation and she would very much appreciate some guidance at the moment, thanks.

She's shifting back on her heels and staring with feigned interest at what's probably an absurdly expensive painting of a boat that hangs on the far wall - and wow, there are a lot of boats in this place, all things considered - when Oliver's hand skims down her arm, sending a trail of goosebumps skittering across her skin as as he draws her attention back to him.

"Do you mind giving me just a moment?" he asks, hand covering the mouthpiece of the phone as he looks at her.

"Oh. Right. I… yeah," she gulps, blinking rapidly and breaking eye contact, her eyes darting everywhere but him. Privacy, he needs privacy to talk to his girlfriend. "Of course. Obviously, that's… I'm just gonna go check on Ellie."

God, she feels like an idiot. No, she is an idiot.

She'd thought she and Oliver were on the same page, or at least reading the same book. Now, considering the Sara of it all - remembering the Sara of it all - she's not even sure they're reading the same genre.

How could she so easily forget?

The uneasiness that settles over her is uncomfortable, sitting like an ill-fitting sweater that leaves her feeling fidgety and awkward.

Her lips press together in a thin line and she bites down like she's physically trying to keep her worries from rolling off her tongue. Given her propensity to inadvertently babble her inner thoughts, there's some merit to that idea.

She shifts, turns to go, but Oliver grips her hand for a second, drawing her surprised gaze back up to him.

"Five minutes," he tells her, his gaze heavy and his voice laden with… something.

It's that something that has her chest loosening, letting her take a deep breath. She nods, unable to break eye contact with him. She doesn't dare hazard a guess about what he's going to say to Sara, but the anxiety that was building shifts, morphs into something dimmer, something more manageable.

He settles something inside her, in that way that only he seems to have.

Felicity can't remember exactly when she gave him that power over her, that ability to affect her so starkly on such a fundamental level. It's striking, when she thinks about it, precisely how easily he could shatter her heart… if she let him. Her chest starts tightening again at the realization that she wants to take that chance, she wants him to take that chance, them to take the chance. She's had decidedly non-platonic feelings for him from the get-go - like, immediately from the get-go, the second he walked into her office and tried to lie to her face - but this is different.

This is more.

It makes her fragile and hopeful all at once, and she doesn't quite know what to do with that.

"Okay," she agrees after a beat. "I'll be… coloring with Ellie. Take your time."

He nods and says nothing in return, but she can feel his eyes on her as she leaves right up until she shuts the office door behind her.

Part of her lingers in that room with him. She can't help it. Her mind focuses wholly on the conversation he's having. She tries to push it away, tries to think about anything else, but she fails entirely until she finds herself in the kitchen and takes in the sight of her daughter coloring with painstaking amounts of concentration that remind her solidly of Oliver when he's training.

Moira glances up with a smile.

"She's quite the little artist," the older woman says with a note of pride in her voice that Felicity has only ever heard from the woman when speaking about her children. "She decided she wanted to draw her family."

Felicity startles at that, looks at the drawing with renewed interest. There's a whole lot more people on it than just her, Oliver and Ellie, and her curiosity is piqued.

"Can you tell me about your drawing?" Felicity asks, sliding onto the barstool next to Ellie.

"I don't have enough room," Ellie says with a little huff. "I'm only doing my family in Star City. I need another paper for my Central City family."

"Star City?" Moira asks, looking on with fondness shining in her eyes. "You mean Starling City, dear?"

"No," Ellie shakes her head, not bothering to explain as she scribbles riotous curls of hair on a stick figure. Star City? Felicity frowns and looks up at Moira, whose brows furrow in confusion before she meets Felicity's gaze.

To say the moment of understanding that flows between them is jarring would be an understatement, as the gravity of what Ellie being there means starts to really settle in. So many changes in the future - are they good? Bad? Well obviously some of them are bad considering Ellie doesn't even know her own grandmother.

She sees Oliver's face from earlier, and her heart aches, remembering how he'd tried to push it down, to bottle it up in that Oliver way of his. He was right, about not knowing where to even start with the possibility of changing things, and that doesn't even get into how very much they should not even be considering changing things… it's hard not to though.

The urge to find out more is intense. Talk about a mystery; everyone's future is a mystery, sure, but the key to some of what happens in her life is sitting right in front of her. It's the opposite of smart though, she knows that on a rational level. Who knows how much of it will change just because she knows Ellie exists now?

But changes like the name of the city, what is that about?

"How about you tell me who everyone is?" Felicity asks, instinctively letting her hand drift to stroke through the Ellie's soft, loose curls.

"That's Digg," she says, pointing to a massive figure that takes up the entire height of the page.

"He's very tall," Moira notes.

"He is," Ellie nods fiercely and with great seriousness. "He's the tallest ever. It is very fun to ride on his shoulders."

A grin breaks out across Felicity's face at that mental image and she has to cover her mouth to keep in a laugh.

"And who is this?" Moira asks, pointing to the figure next to Digg.

"Lyla," Ellie announces. "And next to her are Uncle Roy and Aunt Thea and then momma and daddy."

Moira sucks in a breath at Uncle Roy and Aunt Thea, but says nothing. It's just as well, Felicity is focused wholly on the drawing anyhow. It's just circles and lines, but she and Oliver are leaning against each other with obvious closeness and huge smiles that make Felicity's heart ache with want. And with gratefulness, she realizes with sudden surprise. She hadn't had that growing up. Even before her dad had left, her parents had been more arguments than affection. If this picture is anything to go by, Ellie at least has stability and real happiness in her family life, even if it is obviously lacking in other ways.

Supervillains don't much allow for predictability, after all.

"Why did you use a circle for mommy when you used a line for everyone else?" Felicity wonders aloud.

"Because the baby in your tummy makes it round," Ellie says, looking at her like it's all so obvious.

Felicity completely freezes at that, her hand stilling on the back of Ellie's head, her breath catching in her throat. She can feel Moira staring at her over Ellie's head, but she doesn't look. She can't. Her eyes are glued on the little rounded, smiling stick figure of herself that her daughter's drawn.

"What?" she manages after a moment.

"He's got to stay in there until he's ready to come out," Ellie tells her solemnly. "Even if you are ready for him to be on your outside already. It's not safe for him yet. He has to wait. Daddy says so."

"It's a boy?" is the only thing Felicity can manage, her free hand resting against her flat stomach seemingly of its own will.

"Yeah," Ellie says matter-of-factly, as if she hasn't just completely rocked her mother's sense of reality. "I wanted a sister because Sara's like my sister, but she's not really. I wanted a real one. But you said we didn't get to pick. I guess a little brother won't be so bad. Maybe he'll like coloring too."

"Sara's a little old to be your sister, isn't she?" Moira ventures, probably mostly to relieve Felicity of the burden of trying to find a response.

"Maybe a little. She's seven," Ellie agrees. "That's really old. It's almost grown-up. She's in first grade."

"Ellie… Sara's older than seven," Felicity says, finding her voice, forcing herself to breathe normal. "She's almost daddy's age."

"Not that Sara," Ellie says rolling her eyes. "Digg and Lyla's Sara."

She points to the short curly haired figure who her own stick figure is apparently holding hands with.

"Digg and Lyla have a daughter?" Felicity asks, blinking rapidly at that realization.

And… now she's learning way too much about their futures. Despite the nearly insane sudden urge to start asking questions, Felicity knows this can't be a good idea, at all. Knowing too much jeopardizes everything and - so far - with very few exceptions, their futures sound kinda, sorta… fantastic. Sure, there's losing Moira and something bad happening to her and whatever it is that forced Barry to bring Ellie back in time in the first place, but the rest of it… she wants it with a fierceness she could never have expected, and the more Ellie talks about their future, the more she wants it.

But what if knowing too much changes everything?

"Yeah," Ellie says, putting down her crayon after finishing a smiley face on the sun. "Can I have another sheet of paper, please? I need to draw my Central City family. I can't leave out William and Barry and the others."

William?

"Who is-"

"Hey," Oliver greets, interrupting her train of thought as he wanders into the room with his hands stuffed in his pockets.

"Hi, daddy!" Ellie says excitedly, hopping off the stool and holding up the paper she's been working on. "I drew a picture for you!"

"It's beautiful, Ellie," he tells her, crouching down to her level and wrapping an arm around her while she points out the different people she's drawn.

She's beaming as Oliver focuses entirely on her and her art. There is so much pride on her little face at her father's approval that it utterly melts something inside Felicity. She'd been right. He's an amazing father. And the sight of this, of the instant bond between Ellie and her dad, it redoubles the desire to have something real with him. She wants this, wants him, with every last fiber of her being.

Which takes her right back to square one because this is Oliver, and he's in a relationship, and it's dandy that this happens eventually, but right now, it's just… complicated.

Which makes her want to grab onto both of them and never let go.

"Can I keep it?" Oliver asks Ellie. "I'd like to hang it up, if that's okay with you."

"I would be honored," Ellie tells him primly with a nod of her little head.

Oliver laughs - Felicity grins at the sound of 'honored' coming off her daughter's lips, definitely not missing the longing behind it - and draws her into a hug, kissing the blonde curls on the top of her head, holding onto her tightly like he's savoring the moment. His hands span the whole of her little back and he's got his eyes shut as he buries his nose in her hair, breathing in her scent.

Felicity knows she's staring at them, knows the yearning she feels inside is visible, vaguely aware that Moira Queen is still in the room with them, but she sort of fails to connect those two ideas until the older woman's hand settles on her shoulder. Felicity jolts to look at the Queen matriarch's surprisingly approving eyes.

"You will find, I think, that the only thing a mother wants more for her children than a father like that is for them to one day have the great fortune of being parents themselves," she says quietly enough that Oliver can't hear. "I am grateful… humbled, even, to have the privilege to witness my son as the sort of father I have always known he would someday be. I owe you no small amount of thanks for that."

"I haven't done anything," Felicity protests automatically.

"You're a smart woman, Miss Smoak… Felicity," Moira says, correcting herself. "You know better than that."

"But, Mrs. Queen, this…"

"Moira," she interrupts. "Please."

"Uh… okay, Moira." The name feels just as awkward on her tongue as this entire exchange, and it only makes her more aware of her hand still on her shoulder. "This isn't real yet."

"She seems quite real to me," Moira counters. "And I have no doubt that she seems real to you and Oliver, especially since we don't know how long she's with us. Perhaps we will have her a day or a week or a year before she disappears back to her own time. Either way, it will hurt whenever she goes, and maybe I will never live to see her sweet little face again, but do not for a second believe that makes this moment with her any less valuable now."

For all of Moira's faults, there is no denying the woman is both perceptive and so full of maternal love that she's actually glowing. Felicity's never seen this side of her before, not ever, and she blinks, feeling like she's looking at a completely different person.

"How about you draw another picture for mommy?" Oliver asks as he pulls back from Ellie, causing them to turn back to where he's kneeling next to the toddler. "We can hang them up next to each other, okay?"

"Okay," Ellie says, nodding firmly like a little girl on a mission before she scurries back to the stool and takes a blank sheet of paper from Moira's outstretched hand. "I'll draw my Central City family for momma."

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Oliver asks.

It takes Felicity a moment to realize he's talking to her. And, when she does, she sort of jolts at the realization. His hands are back in his pockets and he's waiting for her response, eyebrows knit together. He's nervous. It dawns on her all of a sudden, and for the first time since all of this craziness started, she wonders if maybe his heart isn't in her hands just as much as hers rests in his.

Whoa.

She's getting ahead of herself, right? She is, because this nervousness could literally be about anything - he's nervous about Slade, about their daughter, the fact that they have a daughter, their future, that they have a future that involves a 'their,' that Moira knows about Ellie, that she knows about time travel

So many things.

Talking to her is just another thing, a thing he does all the time.

Right?

"Of course," Felicity says, sliding off the barstool and heading with him out into the hall.

He doesn't stop there though, and that sends her anticipation into overdrive - is it good anticipation, bad anticipation?

He keeps walking until they're back in the office. The light press of his fingers on the small of her back guides her gently along the way and her heart hammers in her throat as she realizes whatever he's going to say is absolutely going to change things. Is he going to apologize and tell her that he's still with Sara? Is he going to say something about them? She has no idea, but the moment builds in her mind, only getting worse when he closes the door again. It swamps her thoughts and presses down heavily on her lungs, leaving her breaths shallow and forced.

"So, um… so how's Sara?" she asks, wrapping her arms around her midsection as he leaves her side to lean back against the desk, his fingers curling around the edge of the hard wood surface.

"She's been better," Oliver says. "She's been worse too, though. Her wrist is broken. The doctors are insisting on a cast."

Felicity winces at that.

"Yeah… exactly," Oliver huffs out a laugh. "You can imagine how well that went over."

"She's… ah… having a hell of a day," Felicity replies, her voice tight and her smile forced. "Broken wrist defending her boyfriend's child from the future whose mother is… not her."

Oliver draws in a long breath before letting it out very, very slowly through thinned lips.

"It's… over," he says as his fingers rub along the underside of the desk.

Trepidation slams into her with so much force she almost forgets she's standing because… what is over? Them, as in her and Oliver? They weren't even a them yet, there wasn't anything there - is this his way of saying he chose Sara, that he…?

"Me and Sara, I mean," he finishes.

Felicity really, really hopes she isn't showing exactly how relieved those words make her. Still, she can't hide the way her shoulders drop or the breathy, "Oh," that manages to slip out.

Oh.

And then her heart hurts for him because really, their day's been long enough, shouldn't it go uphill at some point, if the Fates were even a little nice?

"I'm sorry," she finally tells him.

"I'm not," he replies immediately, and Felicity starts at that.

"Did she… break up with you because of Ellie?" she ventures.

"Not exactly," Oliver offers, licking his lips and swallowing hard.

"Then what-"

"I broke up with her," Oliver confesses quickly - too quickly. "Or maybe... we broke up with each other, I'm not sure, actually."

Felicity blinks.

Whatever she'd been expecting him to say, that hadn't been it.

"Oh," she says, white noise buzzing in her head. "That's… is that because of…" She holds her hands up but she has no idea what to do with them - gesture at them as in her-and-Oliver-them, or at… Ellie, or Slade, or… "Help me out here, Oliver. Why'd you do that?"

His gaze burns into her, leaving her raw and so vulnerable - he looks like he's choosing her, like he wants her.

Blood rushes through Felicity's ears, that anticipation from earlier suddenly roaring through her veins… but she doesn't know it for certain. She doesn't know what he means, what this means, what any of it means.

All she knows, with the same alarming certainty that she needs Ellie to continue existing, is what she wants to hear from him. Badly, so badly she aches for it.

"Because I never looked to the future with Sara," Oliver says, dipping his head as he speaks, as if he's struggling to find the right words. "I never wanted to, and it wasn't just with her, it was… in general, because I didn't think I could have one, not like…" He pauses, and then he looks right at her. "But it's hard to avoid looking at the future when it's staring back at you, looking like everything you never thought you'd be able to have."

Oh god.

It's not exactly what she'd thought she'd hear, not exactly what she'd almost hoped to hear... but it's close, so close that her heart thuds wildly at the prospect.

Did that include her, as in a her-and-him-equals-them thing?

She wants to ask it, she wants to so badly she can taste the words, but she doesn't.

The distance between them starts feel like a bowstring pulled taut with tension, waiting to snap at any second.

"At... Ellie," Felicity says with a nod, ignoring the way her voice cracks. "You mean at Ellie."

He says nothing, staring at her instead, staring at her in a way that makes her mouth go dry because she wonders if that isn't exactly what he meant. For a split second she thinks he might clarify things, tell her what he really means… but then a tight smile that doesn't reach his eyes tugs at his lips, and the moment is lost.

"Yeah," Oliver says, nodding slowly, furrowing his brow as he speaks. "At Ellie."

He's lying, she knows it as surely as she did when his coffee shop was in a bad neighborhood and when he ran out of sports bottles. But this time, she doesn't know why he's lying. Alright, she sort of knows why, because the entire situation is very wow, but at the same time… she's not sure if he's lying to just her, or himself as well.

But she doesn't say anything.

Oliver's gaze wavers, his shoulders twitching as she stares at him. He's not sure what she's going to do, or say, and if she's being honest, neither is she.

It's been a hell of a day, and she's struggling with everything that's suddenly being lobbed right at them… He needs more time, to come to terms with how his life is changing right before him - how it's being forced to change right before him - and she has to let him have that, because she knows what it means that he even admitted to looking into the future and thinking…

Maybe.

The thought makes her heart pound. Maybe she needs more time herself.

"Okay," Felicity says.

He can't hold her gaze and it's that fact alone that tells her he knows she's aware that he's not telling her everything, but he's also aware she's letting him get away with it. For now.

"It's late," she follows up a moment later. "I'm sure Ellie's getting tired. Or, actually, I have no idea what time of day it was when Barry zipped her back a few years. Maybe she's not tired. Maybe she'd just gotten up for the day. But I'm tired, so she needs to go to sleep too... and oh my god, I'm my mother." Her jaw drops. "It's like every time ever she told me to put on a sweater because she was cold."

Oliver's grin is far more genuine in reaction to the horror at that thought rolling through her, because she is totally her mother.

His eyes twinkle as he shakes his head and pushes off the desk to close in on her as he says, "It doesn't sound that bad."

"You don't know my mother, Oliver," Felicity says, turning towards the door. "At least not yet anyway. Oh my god, she's gonna have a cow when she finds out. I mean, a surprise granddaughter will be crazy, but she'll have even more of a cow when she finds out that you and I… are a… well, in the future, I mean… This is confusing."

Oliver's smile widens, his hand falling on her lower back as he moves right past her ramble. "We should get Ellie on a normal sleep schedule, just in case."

"That's ironic coming from us," Felicity says, raising an eyebrow at him. "You realize that, right?"

"Maybe," he allows. "But… she's our little girl."

Felicity would be lying to herself if she didn't admit everything inside her melts at that, quickly followed by her brain short-circuiting because he just referred to Ellie as their little girl.

"And," Oliver continues. "I figure we're allowed to want a little bit of normalcy for her."

Normalcy.

Like them being a them sort of normalcy.

She manages to nod her head in agreement with a, "Right," as Oliver opens the door for her before they both head back to the kitchen.

Back to their daughter.

Chapter Text

"So," Felicity says as they follow the sound of Ellie and his mother's voice back to the kitchen. "Sleeping arrangements..."

If she notices his hand hasn't left her lower back, she doesn't say anything, and he doesn't move it. He doesn't want to move it, and for once, he listens to that urge. She's warm; he can feel the subtle shifts in her muscles as she walks, moving under his touch, and it just feels right. It all feels right.

Breaking things off with Sara had been easier than he'd thought.

"Yeah, I kinda figured that's where this was headed."

"Sara…"

"No, it makes sense, Ollie. A lot more than you know. You have a kid, Oliver. With Felicity, and that… You need someone who knows how to harness that light that's still inside you, and we both know that person isn't me. But I'm pretty sure we both know it could be her."

Inevitable had been the word Sara had used - Oliver wasn't sure if she'd been referring to them or to Felicity, and he's still not sure. All he knows is that he has a daughter in the future, with Felicity, and that when he'd kissed her - holding both of them in his arms - it'd resonated.

It's still resonating.

Without realizing they're doing it, they both pause outside the kitchen as Moira asks Ellie if she's hungry. The gentle tenor in his mother's voice makes Oliver's chest ache - he's still upset with her, about Malcolm being Thea's father, the Undertaking, the lies, so many lies… but for all her faults and shortcomings, Oliver can't deny that she was a good mom, to both him and Thea. Hearing that unique tone in her voice again reminds him of being little, of sitting in that very kitchen as she and Raisa discuss the dinner menu, her wandering over to check his homework over his shoulder. They were gone a lot, his parents, but when they were around, especially Moira... it was good.

To think she might never have gotten a chance to meet her granddaughter makes his blood run cold - he has his issues with his mother, but he'd never, ever wish that on her.

"When was the last time you ate, sweetheart?"

"I ate with momma and daddy," Ellie replies, concentrating on her drawing.

Oliver's pretty sure it will never not be weird to hear his daughter talking about their future selves.

"Oh? What'd you have?"

He takes a steadying breath, listening to Ellie as she talks to her grandmother about chicken cordon bleu - he lets out a breathy chuckle at her pronunciation, pausing only when he hears her says it's his chicken cordon bleu - he cooks? - and that, "The fireman had to come the last time momma tried to cook it."

"I see some things won't be changing," Felicity says under her breath.

A quick grin lights his face as he quietly asks, "Not a great cook?"

"If by 'Not a great cook?' you mean, 'Are you a really awful cook?' then yes," she says dryly, giving him a smile. "I burn water, it's a rare talent. Although it sounds like you're there to save our family from water poisoning." She looks at him. "And since when can you cook?"

Oliver shrugs, shaking his head. "I can't. Maybe I learned because you almost burn the house down."

Felicity nudges his shoulder with hers. "I'd be offended except that probably does almost happen all the time."

He chuckles as she turns to peek around the doorjamb. Oliver looks around her, his chest clenching when he sees Moira sitting with Ellie, using some of her crayons to do her own drawing. Every few seconds Moira looks up at Ellie, a tiny smile on her lips, and Oliver knows exactly what she's feeling - wonder, amazement, love.

Ellie's little brow is furrowed with concentration as she carefully draws her Central City family - at least that's what he assumes she's drawing. Her Central City family - so does that mean Barry really embraces his new, what, powers? Is that what they're called? And Ellie obviously knows them - she definitely knew Barry - so that means Oliver and Felicity are involved in their lives as well.

Oliver's future was always one thing: paying penance. Whenever he looked into it, he always saw himself, alone, in the dark, saving as many people as he could, righting the wrongs of those around him, making the world better, paying for the sins laid at his feet. He'd always assumed he would stay in the foundry, stay in Starling City, and he'd be isolated, because… because he didn't deserve this.

But he gets it. Somehow, some way, this becomes his life.

How is it possible he's ever this lucky?

"Can you believe we create that little human in there?" Felicity whispers, the same wonder filling him coloring her voice.

"No," Oliver answers honestly and he more feels than sees Felicity moving, turning to look up at him. He swallows, a tiny herd of butterflies filling his stomach as he tears his eyes off Ellie and looks at her.

He'd lied, earlier, when she'd asked him why he'd broken up with Sara… and he knew she knew he'd lied. Did she know why though? Did she know that seeing her like this, with their daughter, knowing that this was his future, was opening up something deep inside him that he'd locked away the instant he'd recognized it for what it was? He'd always been terrified at the prospect of having children, of bringing them into his dangerous life, but now that he's seen her - his daughter - and he knows she exists because of the amazing woman standing before him, now that he knows what it's like to have both of them in his life, that it's not a burden or something to be scared of but something to be celebrated, something that brings so much life and joy into his world… now that he knows what that feels like...

He wants it.

Badly.

But even though he knows he's literally looking at his future right now, he can't bring himself to say it, not yet. What happens between now and then? When do they get together, when do they have Ellie? What happens with Slade, with his mother, with the rest of the team?

He knows he has this life to look forward to… but is there a cost to it? Is this what Felicity wants, did she choose this?

Why?

Felicity's searching his eyes, her face softening like she can see what he's thinking written all over him, and she breathes, "Oliver," before she reaches up and cups his cheek. His eyes slip shut for a split second as he turns into her touch, his shoulders sagging. Her other hand covers his heart and for that split second he lets himself leans into her, letting go under the weight of the day's events as she says, "I believe it."

His eyes fly open, instantly finding hers and the utter certainty in her eyes warms his chest, and in that second he knows - she chose this, this life, to live in his world, to give him a daughter... she chose him.

Something deep inside him cracks open.

Oliver takes a stuttered breath and she smiles, her beautiful Felicity smile that's full of confidence and reassurance and knowledge. She does believe it - she believes in their future, in him, and that thought alone is more healing than anything he could have ever done.

He wants this.

He wants her.

It's the first time he's ever actively thought it - he's known, for a long time, that his feelings for her had crossed a line, ever since he saw the look on her face in Russia, since he was faced with the reality of losing her if the Count had had his way… but it was never something he could have, not ever, until now. Because now he knows he can have it, can have her, and it's everything he's ever wanted.

He doesn't have to meet his future self to know that, he just knows.

It's so damn freeing that he almost falls over.

"Felicity," he sighs, and for the first time in as long as he can remember, he touches her how he wants to. Oliver lifts his hands, skating his palms over her shoulders before sliding down her arms until he's grasping her forearms gently. He feels her slight hesitation, feels her start to pull back like she's thinking he's going to push her away and he tightens his hold on her, holding her closer.

Her eyes widen, her lips falling open in surprise and he almost says it…

"Momma, look!"

Ellie appears out of nowhere - he didn't even hear her moving, much less the sound of her running towards them - and they both look down to see her proud little face as she holds up her picture for them to see.

"Here, momma, this one's for you," she says.

It doesn't escape his attention that neither of them let go of each other until Felicity moves to take the drawing from their daughter.

"Oh wow," Felicity says. "This is beautiful." She angles it towards Oliver who nods, his eyes skating over the various stick figures, trying to put names to them but he has no idea where to start. "Thank you, Ellie."

"That's our Central City family. It has William, and Sammy, and Cisco, and Caitlin, and look…" Ellie pushes onto her toes, pulling on Felicity's arm to pull her back down to her level to point out the lone figure in red. It has little lightning bolts around him - so she's aware of Barry's extracurricular activities as much as she's aware that Oliver obviously goes on 'missions.' "That's Uncle Barry!"

"Yeah, it is," Felicity says. "It looks just like him. This is going to go up right next to the picture you drew for daddy."

Ellie beams.

"How about we get ready for bed?" Oliver suggests, and movement out the corner of his eye has him looking up to find Moira leaning her shoulder against the wall, her eyes on them. "Ellie, you want to go with mommy to…"

To… what? What did she do to get ready for bed? What did any toddler do to get ready for bed?

"Clean our faces and brush our teeth," Ellie says with a nod. "I know, daddy."

"Oh, well…" Oliver watches her walk back into the kitchen to put her drawing down. "Okay then."

Moira chuckles. "She's certainly very headstrong."

"She doesn't get that from me," Felicity says and Oliver snorts. She looks at him. "Hey, I am extremely easygoing."

"In what world are you easygoing?"

"In all of them," Felicity replies. He makes a face and she pokes him in the chest. "More than you, that's for sure."

Oliver smiles easily, grabbing her hand with a genial, "Okay, sure."

He honestly can't remember the last time he'd smiled without some part of it being forced, without some part of him being locked down, hidden away… No, that's not true, sometimes he does smile, even if it's so tiny nobody catches it.

It's usually because of her.

That thought alone - letting himself think it at all - has another piece inside him shifting into place.

Felicity narrows her eyes at him - he wonders if she realizes she hasn't taken her hand back, or that her index finger is running over the back of his hand, like it's the most natural thing in the world - just as Ellie comes back out.

Oliver's not sure who drops their hands first, or if they do it together, or… or if he's thinking too much - he's suddenly far more aware of Felicity than ever before.

Do they hold hands in the future? Is that something she does when their fingers are linked? Does he ever pull her hand into both of his, dragging his finger down the center of her palm just to see hers flutter, to hear her giggle or feel her face as she pushes into his neck, her grinning lips pressed against his pulse point, so soft…

What the hell is he thinking?

God, it's like now that he knows what's waiting for him, knows what the future holds for him - for them - he wants it now, but it's something he can't have right away.

Or is it?

"Uh, okay, so…" Felicity starts and Moira steps in.

"You can use Oliver's old room for tonight," she says. His breath catches at that as she nods towards the foyer and the stairs. Felicity's jaw drops. "Take the left staircase, it's the fourth door on the left."

"Oh, but that's… that's not..." Felicity shakes her head as she struggles for words. Ellie moves towards her mother. Does Felicity know how instinctively she moves around her, how her hands come up to her daughter's shoulders, how she pulls her in closer? "We can…"

"Hey, it's okay," Oliver says, his fingers grazing her shoulder, wordlessly telling her there's no way he's letting them out of his sight. "There's a couch in there."

Felicity's eyes find him. "Oh." She's still not convinced and he more than understands - just a couple hours ago, she'd thought the craziest part of their day had been how to stop a psycho bent on burning the city to the ground in his revenge against Oliver… now their Worry List includes their future daughter and sleeping arrangements.

"And the bathroom has everything you need," Moira adds.

"Okay then," Felicity says. Her eyes dart between Moira and Oliver, and he moves towards the stairs, holding his hand out for her to go first. "I guess we'll…"

"Oliver, can I have a moment?" Moira asks.

"Uh…" His first reaction is still to say, 'No,' but he bites it off. "Yeah." He looks at Felicity. "I'll be up in a minute."

"Okay," Felicity says with a smile, a smile he recognizes as the one she'd given him when she first suggested he talk to his mother. He finds himself returning it before she looks down at Ellie. "Let's get scrubbin', huh?"

Oliver watches them leave.

"What's the name of the microorganisms on our faces again, momma?" Ellie asks, the word 'microorganisms' coming out in a mess as they walk back into the foyer.

Felicity's answer fades away as they head upstairs and Oliver turns back to his mother.

She's staring at him with a wistful expression.

"I wasn't sure when I'd have the honor to see that look on your face again," she says.

Oliver furrows his brow. "What look?"

"Happiness," Moira replies.

He has no idea what to say to that.

Moira takes a few steps towards him, looking like she's gathering herself before she says, "I know there are a lot of things we need to discuss, and we will, but I only have one question: what sort of danger is my granddaughter in, Oliver?"

"I don't know," he answers, his eyes straying to where Felicity and Ellie had gone. If he listens hard enough, he can hear them. "The… person, who brought her here, he didn't… there wasn't enough time to really explain what was going on, or why."

"Does it have anything to do with your… with what you do?"

Oliver's heart stops, his eyes shooting back to her. She doesn't… she can't know. He frowns, a stinging shiver falling down his spine as he takes a step back, trying to think of what she's implying, what she's asking, because she can't possibly…

"What?" he asks, the word barely audible.

Moira cocks her head, a small almost sad smile pulling at her lips. "Oliver, I know."

He stares at her. "You…?" He shakes his head. "How...?"

"I've known, for about a year. Since the Undertaking, I suppose." She clasps her hands together. "A lot of things became very clear that night."

She knows. The thought rattles through his head, over and over… she knows what he's done, who he's killed, who died because of him, that he brought so much madness to the city in his efforts to save it…

He can't comprehend it.

It must be all over his face because she makes a tiny sound in the back of her throat and steps towards him with a soft, "Oh, Oliver..." She cups his face as she says, "I could not be any more proud of you."

Oliver lets out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding, his head dipping slightly as the gravity of what she's saying hits him, leaving him feeling oddly hollow. It'd been the first and foremost thing at the front of his mind when he'd come back to Starling City: to protect his family, meaning they could never know. It'd been a burden he hadn't realized weighed so much until Diggle, and it'd lightened even more when he shared his secret with Felicity… but his mother knowing who he is, what he does… His eyes slip shut, his shoulders falling as some of the weight slides right off.

Her hands slide down to his shoulders, feeling diminutive against his wide frame - despite that, he knows they can carry more than he can imagine - that they have carried more.

Proud.

She's proud of him, and Oliver never knew how much he craved it until that moment.

"Will you tell me about it?" she asks and he stiffens. "Only if you wish to, of course. I just… I want to help, in any way I can. Especially if it concerns Ellie."

"I, uh…" Oliver scrambles for what to say next, his mind still trying to come to terms with the fact that he's talking about this with his mother, of all people. She looks so plaintive, and open, and he honestly believes she does want to help. He knows she does, but considering the damage their relationship's been suffering, it's still a little jarring.

"Do you know who's after her?"

"Someone named Zoom," Oliver replies, wincing as he says it, taking a second to marvel because there's no way that's this person's actual name. Her eyebrows inch up, but there's no recognition on her face. "Although he might not be the only danger anymore."

"What exactly does that mean?" Moira asks.

"It means that while Zoom is apparently chasing Ellie through time, she was dropped off in this time at a… not great time. Someone else saw her."

Wariness tightens Moira's face. She draws her shoulders back, her jaw tightening, and Oliver blinks at the sudden transformation - this, standing before him, is Moira Queen, the woman who did everything and anything for her family. He suddenly understands a helluva lot more about everything than he did a few hours ago.

"Someone else knows about her?" she asks.

"I don't know if he knows that she's mine," Oliver says, the rightness of calling Ellie his warming him. She is his, there's no more doubt about that. "But he did see her."

"And who is 'he'?"

Oliver hesitates, remembering very well his mother's last encounter with him. "It's Slade Wilson."

Disbelief has her furrowing her brow before she blinks it away, her mind racing to connect the dots between the new information and what she already knows.

"There's a lot you don't know, about him." Oliver pauses. "And about me."

Moira narrows her eyes. "You've met him before?"

"Yeah," Oliver says slowly. "On the island."

Her strong facade crumbles for a brief second at the mention of Lian Yu and Oliver knows she's back to being the mother who'd lost her son to the North China Sea only to get him back, but not all of him. It was something she'd known the second she'd seen him all those months ago, he was sure of it. And now she's getting her confirmation that she only got pieces back… and that right now, he's starting to offer her some of those missing parts.

"I suppose," she says, her voice quiet. "That there's a lot we don't know about each other just yet."

"Yeah," Oliver replies softly. And then a wry smile pulls at his lips. "Like you believing in time travel?"

Moira hums in her own wry amusement. "Well, when you discover that there really might be a pit that can bring someone back from the dead, you start to believe in many things." He frowns at that - what? - but she continues, "I've been learning that the world isn't quite as it seems, Oliver. Like finding out my son has a daughter with a woman he's clearly never had a relationship with."

He can only blink.

Moira smiles. "Anyone can see you have feelings for her, Oliver, just as I've known for quite some time that she has feelings for you."

His heart catches - he knows that, he's always known that there was more for her, from the accidental flirting to the embarrassing rambles to the wandering eye she thinks he doesn't see… but actually hearing it is a very different thing.

He realizes a little too late that he doesn't even balk at her mentioning his feelings for Felicity.

"And that little girl is clearly the product of a loving, healthy relationship," Moira says, absently brushing imaginary lint off his shirt. The wistful look is back, and her smile becomes gentle. "I always knew you'd be a wonderful father, Oliver, and that you'd find someone who brought out the best in you." She looks back at him. "I'm so grateful I got to see it."

… before she's gone.

Oliver's gut clenches painfully.

"Mom..." he whispers, his voice cracking and she shakes her head minutely.

"Focus on right now, Oliver," she says, nodding to the stairs. "Go be with your family. I'll be here in the morning."

 


 

 

Felicity's not sure how much time has passed before the sound of the door opening rouses both her and Ellie, nor does she realize what she's doing the second that she hears the knob turning - Felicity instinctively curls around her daughter, instantly moving to fend off the intruder before realizing who it is.

Ellie shifts with a quiet, "Daddy?"

"Sorry," Oliver responds, shutting the door behind him. Felicity frowns at the sound in his voice. She'd left the bathroom light on for illumination, but most of the space is lost in shadow so she can't see him, but she can definitely hear the roughness that wasn't there before.

"Oliver?" she asks, blinking the remnant sleep away, remembering Moira had asked him to stay downstairs for a second. It doesn't sound like it went well.

"It's okay," he whispers.

"You sure?" she responds, propping herself up on her elbow, her hand finding Ellie's back as the toddler cuddles closer to her. Her eyes slowly adjust to the room and she finally sees him as he makes his way towards the bed.

"Yeah," Oliver says, and she sees him nod. "Are you two good?"

Felicity hums, fighting a yawn. "Yeah. We cleaned up a little, which was nice. And good." She stretches, exhaustion pulling at her as she fights another yawn. "I smelled like smoke, which is so not a great smell, and she was all smudgy from time travel. It seems like it'd be dirty, doesn't it? Traveling through time. Is time dusty? It sounds dusty. Or maybe that's just normal little kid dirtying up, I don't know, so I sort of…" She's aware she's babbling, but she's tired and thinking is too much work. Felicity doesn't miss the way Oliver's head tilts like it does when he's particularly amused by what she's saying as she continues, "Snuck across the hallway to see if there were clothes that didn't make us look like we were swimming, because your shirts are huge." Her eyes widen as she listens to herself. "Not that I was snooping, in your closet. I wasn't trying to snoop anywhere, actually, but we needed something clean and…"

"Felicity," Oliver says softly, cutting her off. He leans onto the bed, reaching like he's going to touch her but he stops short. She hears his quick inhale before he abruptly shifts his attention to Ellie. Felicity catches the bare glimpse of his smile as he lets his hand drift over her curls and the toddler lets out a particularly content sigh under his touch, falling into a deeper sleep. She feels his gaze on her again. "You can have whatever you need, Felicity."

The words, 'Including us?' almost fall off her lips before she stops them.

Oliver pushes off the bed. "I'll just be a minute."

"Okay," Felicity replies, not moving as she watches him retreat into the bathroom. After a second, she relaxes again, settling back into the bed, her eyes never leaving the bathroom door. She readjusts enough that Ellie grunts in annoyance before pushing herself down just enough to get away from Felicity's moving limbs, sliding further under the comforter.

The strangest contentment fills her as Ellie's little body moves against her until she's comfortable again, twisting so her back is pressed into Felicity's stomach, and the feeling is only accented by the knowledge that Oliver is just a few feet away.

This is her family, she thinks sleepily, cradling Ellie closer. It feels so right and perfect and hers.

It doesn't matter that there are so many questions lingering in the air, even more than before, about what happens, when it happens, and how… it doesn't matter, because in that moment, it's hers, and she knows it will be hers.

Somehow.

The gentle pull of sleep is tugging her under when she hears the bathroom door slip open, so quiet she barely catches it, but it's there. Oliver switches the light off, bathing the room in black, and she hears the shuffle of his feet on the tile before he hits the carpet and then… silence.

Felicity opens her eyes, blinking to clear them, trying to find him in the darkness… there he is. He's standing by the bathroom, and she can feel his hesitation. She fights the urge to move, to get up and tell him to just come over, to join them, because she knows this isn't a battle she can help him with - this is his battle, with himself, and while she'd seen a little glimpse of it earlier in the hallway, she knows she can't make this decision for him anymore than he can for her.

Does he know that she's already chosen this life, this life with him?

Felicity doesn't even remember when she made that decision - if it was the second she saw Ellie or the way Oliver responded to her, or later when she found her entire world revolving around the bundle of energy currently subdued in her arms - but it sits in her chest comfortably, perfectly… a warm, content weight of knowledge.

This is her life.

Does he want it too?

He does want it... or maybe he only thinks he wants it. He did just break up with Sara, and he did just find out that his mother is going to die before her time, and that he has a daughter with her, so maybe that's all clouding his judgment. Maybe he's thinking he has to want this life because it's already going to happen.

But it doesn't have to happen, does it?

Felicity's thoughts are spinning out of control and they only fall silent when she finally hears him moving.

But it's not to the bed, it's to the couch.

Right.

That was his selling point for sleeping in the same room together, that he had a couch in here, and that he wouldn't be sleeping in his bed… which she unilaterally took over.

Felicity's heart jumps slightly and she's about to sit up and tell him he doesn't have to sleep on the tiny sofa - or couch, as he'd call it; she would barely fit on that thing, much less her and Ellie, she's really curious to see how his huge frame would fold into it - when Ellie shifts for her.

"Daddy?"

"Yeah?" Oliver answers automatically as he stops, turning back to the bed.

"Where're you going?" Ellie asks in a sleep-addled voice that tugs at Felicity's heart, and then her words catch up with her and her heart skips a few beats. She doesn't say anything, watching Oliver, feeling a stupid amount of gratitude for her future self because they obviously raise a child who isn't afraid to speak her mind when her mother is extremely tongue-tied.

"What do you mean?" Oliver asks.

"Are you going to bed too?" she continues, rolling her face against the mattress, her little legs kicking the comforter down a bit.

"Yeah," Oliver says, his voice tender, and she can hear it in the way he says, "I'll see you in the morning, okay?" that he wants to come over to her… to them.

But he doesn't. Felicity might be imagining things.

"Okay," Ellie says, scooting back right into Felicity with a surprising swiftness that makes her gasp. "Move back, momma, make room for daddy."

Felicity finds herself already scooting back before she can think twice just as Oliver protests, "No, sweetie, you guys stay on the bed." He takes a few steps towards them anyway before stopping himself. "I'm sleeping on the couch."

"No, daddy," Ellie says. "Get in."

"Ellie…"

"Did you do something bad?" Ellie interrupts and Felicity snorts, biting her lip to fend off a giggle at that. She can practically see Oliver's face as he processes their daughter's words, but Ellie doesn't give him a second to do so. "Did you bring home the wrong ice cream again?"

Felicity stiffens slightly, her mind jumping back to the picture Ellie had drawn, the picture of her and her very not-flat stomach...

"He's got to stay in there until he's ready to come out. Even if you are ready for him to be on your outside already. It's not safe for him yet. He has to wait. Daddy says so."

Oliver hadn't seen it yet.

"The wrong ice cream?" Oliver repeats, still not moving towards them. His voice is lighter though, like he's smiling. "When did I bring home the wrong ice cream?"

"When momma had a craving," Ellie explains. "She wanted brownie and you got mint."

"But she loves mint chocolate chip," Oliver replies, almost teasingly, and Felicity's heart takes a sudden nosedive. He remembered that?

She feels Ellie nodding against her. "The new baby doesn't though."

The air in the room freezes right along with Oliver as Felicity's heart stutters to a stop.

"The new baby?" he repeats faintly.

Felicity can feel his eyes on her, and she wonders if he can feel hers on him.

"Mhm," Ellie says. "Momma says it makes him cranky, which makes her cranky, which makes you cranky because everyone's cranky. But not me, I don't get cranky."

"Oh," is all Oliver can manage, so soft she barely hears him.

"Can daddy come back to bed, momma?" Ellie asks, turning to peer up at her through the dark. "He promises to get the right ice cream next time, right, daddy?"

Oliver's silent.

"He promises," Ellie reiterates.

"Well," Felicity says. "Okay… then. Yeah, of course he can come back to bed."

"Are you sure?" Oliver asks in a low voice, just for her ears as he takes a hesitant step towards her before stopping, like he wants to but he's fighting himself. "I don't want to make you uncomfortable or…"

"Oliver," Felicity says, scooting back, helping an enthusiastic Ellie pull the comforter back for him. "Trust me when I say that all the times I've imagined sharing a bed with you, it did not include a toddler, so I'm sure..." And then she flinches. "I said that out loud. I didn't mean to say that out loud." She catches the small smile on his lips, but he doesn't respond. He just climbs onto the bed and her heart suddenly starts clawing up her throat, her mouth running off without her, "I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, because I just did, didn't I? I need a filter, someone needs to invent an actual filter that-"

"Felicity," he says, stopping her as he settles in, his tone surprisingly light. "You're fine."

"Oh sure, because talking about sleeping with you is a fine subject." Again. "Actual sleeping, not… the other kind of sleeping."

"Felicity, you don't…" But Ellie's already scooting closer to him, wrapping her tiny arm around his waist - he's positively gargantuan next to her, and it makes Felicity's heart sputter because she knows he will use every bit of it to protect her - tugging him onto his side. "Ellie, what are you doing?"

"Cocoon!" Ellie says with a grin. "Cocoon, daddy, come on!"

"Cocoon?" he repeats before Felicity interjects, "I think maybe we should save the cocoon for when we're all less dead on our feet, Ellie. Let's go to sleep, okay?"

"It is for sleep, momma," Ellie replies, exasperation coloring her tone and Felicity just blinks. "It's to keep us safe when we sleep."

"Safe from what?" Oliver asks, his tone turning a little graver.

"Monsters," Ellie says, like that explains it all. "Come on, momma, in more."

"Monsters? Like under your bed?" Felicity asks as she scoots in a little, but it's clearly not enough because Ellie spins in the contained space and wraps her arm around Felicity, pulling on her. "Oh, that close, okay…"

"All kinds of monsters," Ellie responds. "Daddy calls it Cocoon because we become a cocoon."

"He does, does he?"

"Yep." She pops the 'p'.

"Oliver," Felicity murmurs under her breath as she moves in closer. "I'm beginning to suspect you're a dorky dad."

"What?" he asks softly, like he doesn't know how to take that as his brow furrows. "Why?"

"Well, first the Ellie Kiss…" Felicity says as Ellie situates them.

Felicity is struck with how easy it is. Maybe it's because it's Ellie's there as a sort of future-daughter-buffer, but one second there's a good two feet between her and Oliver and suddenly all that space is gone, and it doesn't even feel weird. Alright, a little weird, but at the same time, it's not.

"And then the Ellie Cocoon." Felicity grins. "Those have dorky dad written all over them."

A slow beatific smile crosses Oliver's face as he processes that, his eyes never leaving hers - and oh wow, they're definitely close enough that she can see him very clearly now - before Ellie interrupts.

"It's not my cocoon, it's our cocoon."

"Oh?" Felicity asks, looking down at her where she's curled up between them.

"Daddy protects us while we sleep." That thing where Felicity's heart just stops happens again and her eyes fly back to Oliver, her heart jumping back to life when she sees his already on her. She can't read what she sees in his eyes, and she wonders if it's just the late hour, the extremely turbulent day and her entire lack of sleep making her see things… but there's something again, the same something from before. "You, me and the baby."

The baby.

Oliver's eyes darken slightly as Ellie talks and his gaze is like a tractor beam - even if Felicity wanted to look away, she couldn't because he's showing her more than he ever has before. There's hope, in his eyes, on his face, hope for something more, for Ellie, for them - for their future.

Felicity's mind goes blank, her chest suddenly feeling very, very full.

"There."

Ellie settles in, letting out a deep sigh that pushes her against both of them before she lets it out, falling still between them. Her back is pressed to Oliver's chest, her little limbs curled in against Felicity's. Her hand shoots out to tug the comforter in closer, literally cocooning her in-between them.

It takes Felicity far too long to realize just how close to Oliver she is. Their feet are touching - like her toes are on his foot - and they're practically sharing a pillow with how close their faces are. Is that his knee against her thigh or is that Ellie? And it wasn't nearly this hot when it'd just been her and Ellie - was that because Oliver was in there, or because she was rapidly becoming more and more aware of him as the seconds ticked by.

When she got up that morning, this was not how she thought her day was going to end.

At all.

"Night," the little girl slurs as sleep tugs her right back into its embrace.

"Goodnight," Felicity whispers as Oliver responds, "Goodnight, Ellie."

"Bug, daddy," she says, her words losing coherency. "Ellie-bug."

Surprised adoration and love flits across Oliver's face as he looks down at Ellie, whispering, "'Night, Ellie-bug." His face is soft with an emotion Felicity can't name as he leans down, pressing a soft kiss to the crown of her head, his hand coming up to cuddle her closer.

His fingers brush against Felicity's arms and a rush of affection floods her chest.

"Bug?" Felicity asks softly.

"My mom," Oliver says, his voice just as soft, his eyes still on their daughter, both of them feeling Ellie's breaths growing deeper as she falls asleep. "She used to call my sister Thea-bug when she was little, and for some reason Thea started calling me Ollie-bug." He shakes his head. "Wow."

Felicity nods, staring at him as he stares at Ellie, her chest growing tight. "Definitely wow."

Oliver looks up at her, and the world stops.

There's so much happening, so much going on around them - Slade, first and foremost, and what he has planned not only for Starling City but for Oliver, and then the fact that they just learned that not only do they get together in the future, but they have a child with another one on the way, and then learning about Moira's future, and what happened with Sara, and none of that even touches on the dangers from their future, the dangers after their child, and all of that topping the fact that they've now learned so much about their future, and what happens if that knowledge changes things for the worse?

It's a lot, almost too much...

But in that moment, it's just them, in a way that it's never been just them before where everything else melts away, fades into the background.

Oliver's hand moves, his fingers brushing against her arm again and her breath catches.

He hears it and pauses.

How many times has she dreamt of this? How many times has she thought about him touching her like this, of his own volition - not like the little touches he gives her, the ones of comfort and to make sure she's okay, but… like this.

Felicity leans in without even thinking, urging him on… and he keeps going, he keeps moving, keeps touching her, and it's everything.

His hand grazes her arm, making the tiny hairs stand up straight with awareness. A tiny shiver falls down her spine, all her attention on his fingers as they drag across her skin. It's both tender and… enlightening, like the mere fact that they're giving in like this is actually happening, and they're both there for it, both of them. It's no longer just her, watching and silently wondering to herself about whimsical what-if's and fanciful daydreams.

He's here, with her.

It's an intoxicating thought.

Oliver watches her as he follows the line of her arm up to her shoulder. His touch is warm through her t-shirt where he stops, gauging her reaction, waiting… and then his thumb reaches out, the tip gently grazing her cheek.

Felicity licks her lips, unable to look away as he slowly moves to cup her cheek.

She can't breathe, she can't move, she can't… do anything but feel and see him because he's right there, so close - if she moved just a little, craned her neck towards him, scooted closer, she'd be able to taste him again, relive that little moment when they'd kissed, and wow, she's kissed Oliver Queen already and she...

She cannot believe this is happening.

"Oliver," she whispers, and he freezes. His eyes widen in alarm, slipping down to his hand like he didn't even realize it was there and she feels him pulling away from her - physically, mentally and emotionally; she can feel all of them and it's jarring. Felicity moves to cover his hand before she can think twice, pressing his palm back to her cheek. "No, wait."

"Felicity, I…" He frowns. "I didn't mean to…"

"No, wait." Felicity swallows, not sure what she wants to say but needing to say something because she needs to, she needs to make sure. "I don't… I don't want you to feel like you have to do this, or that you're… obligated because we know what happens now. Between us, I mean... I mean, Ellie's obviously not disappeared, she's still very here, which means we definitely still have her, together, but… but I don't want you to feel like you have to do this, to be here, or even like you have to… look at me like that, because it…" She closes her eyes as the gravity of what she's saying hits her. "If this is more for me than it is for you, Oliver, I won't…"

"Felicity," Oliver breathes, cutting her off as he shakes his head, a tiny smile on his face… and then he's leaning in, his hand gripping her face tighter.

"Oliver…"

His lips brush against hers, swallowing the rest of her words.

Felicity inhales sharply, a quiet moan slipping out - his lips are soft, so incredibly soft; he tastes minty and like Oliver. How she just knows how he tastes is beyond her but she knows, and she wants more. His stubble is even more pronounced than it was before, even more evident as it scrapes and scratches at her, emphasizing the gentleness of his movements, of everything he's doing from his hand holding her tighter, his fingers skating over her ear, sliding through her hair as he kisses her.

It's perfect and Felicity sighs, melting into him as she kisses him back, threading her fingers through his where he holds her cheek.

They're both overly aware of the sleeping girl between them and it doesn't go anywhere past those few seconds where it's just them, where they taste and touch and feel each other - it's so little, but it's so much at the same time.

It's everything.

Oliver groans deep in his chest, barely audible, and Felicity opens for him, wanting to give him everything she possibly can right then and there.

When he pulls her bottom lip between his, a jolt of pleasure shoots through her, startling her - it's too much and not enough at the same time and Felicity pulls back with a rasped, "Oliver," but he's already moving back with a whispered, "I'm sorry."

"No… Oliver," she whimpers, shaking her head against him. She grabs him, pulling him back, pressing her lips to his again with a breathy whine of want that makes him grip her tighter, pulling her in closer, his lips moving more urgently.

Ellie shifting slightly shatters the moment.

They pull apart.

Her lungs burn with the need for oxygen as Oliver presses his forehead to hers.

Felicity stretches her fingers out across his cheek, overly aware of his harsh stubble as she moves her hand up into his hair.

Whoa.

"We should… talk," she whispers, looking at him. She's starkly aware of her lips, of where they'd just been, and her stomach plummets at the intensity in his eyes - this is real, this is really happening.

Oliver nods. "Yeah… but tomorrow." She furrows her brow and he whispers, "Felicity," before moving closer so his nose brushes against hers, making her eyes slip shut again. "So much happened and everything's… changing, I just…" He pulls back to look at her and she opens her eyes, meeting his. His hand cradling her face tightens. "We have tomorrow."

Felicity's eyes dance over his face, taking him in as he waits, and she knows he'll wait as long as she needs, but she doesn't need long, hearing what he's not saying.

"Okay," Felicity whispers.

Sleep.

Process.

Rest.

She doesn't know how she knows, but she does: she won't wake up tomorrow to find his mind changed. She doesn't know what that means exactly, what she can expect in the morning, what she should expect in the morning - if anything - but she believes it, with every inch of her being.

And for right now, it's enough.

They fall asleep wrapped around each other, their daughter cocooned between them.

Chapter Text

Sunlight engulfs Oliver when he wakes up.

It's everywhere, surrounding him, warming him in a way he hasn't felt in years. The tension that lives in every line of his body is gone, his muscles completely relaxed… He's content, enough that he doesn't instantly yank himself out of sleep like usually does, and for the first time in a long time, he doesn't want to move, not even a little bit.

Every inch of him is at ease as he takes a deep breath, smelling the sunshine of the yellow rays filtering across his face.

Oliver shifts, sinking deeper into its embrace...

Only it's not the sun.

It's Felicity.

All of it.

Oliver wakes a little more at that, shifting just enough to feel where he is… all he feels is her.

She's everywhere.

Somewhere in the night, he'd curled onto his side, spooning against her back, draping an arm across her waist to pull her close. She's flush against him now, her hand resting over his against her stomach, loose and just as at ease as he was, her soft, even breaths telling him she's still lost in her dreams…

There's nothing sexual about it, at all. Hell, there's nothing really even sensual about it. There's no suggestive movements or teasing touches. She's not sighing his name in her sleep or pressing herself against him in a delightfully uncomfortable way. Nothing untoward is happening, nothing that would make him - or her, specifically - blush or get that vicious adrenaline kick that makes his stomach twist.

But at the same time so much is happening. He's holding Felicity in his arms, and it strikes him how normal it feels. The rightness of this - the sense of peace it brings him, the content harmony that's settling in his chest like it's been there the entire time - it hits him like a ton of bricks.

It'd been in front of his face the entire time - she'd been there the entire time - and he'd almost missed this.

Oliver closes his eyes again, letting himself take a second, slowly pulling her a little closer. He presses his face against the back of her neck, nuzzling her soft skin, her silky hair, taking in a deep breath…

She smells like home.

He'd been so terrified of allowing himself the sort of happiness he's still not sure he deserves that he almost let this pass him by - hell, he'd pushed it away, not letting either of them stop to even consider it because the risk had been too great, the what-if's too impossible to overcome.

What if he's not enough for her? Or what if they take a chance and it all falls apart?

What if he loses her in his life?

What if Felicity gets hurt, or worse, killed, because of him?

That thought is still a heavy weight that settles deep in the pit of his stomach, one that makes him clench his teeth at the mere possibility… but now it's not the only thing he sees, not anymore. He's gotten a little taste of what it could be like, what he could have if he just let himself. He wants it, and he'd regret it if he didn't take that chance, something he obviously understands a great deal better in the future.

Felicity takes a deep breath, and Oliver feels her lungs expanding, her shirt shifting just enough that his pinky drifts over the thin strip of skin between her yoga pants and t-shirt. She's sleeping, completely relaxed and at ease, and that he's doing that for her just as much as she did it for him…

Oliver wants this.

He'd almost let this tranquil, domestic sense of home slide through his fingertips, and if Ellie hadn't shown up, he doesn't know how he…

Ellie.

She's gone.

A bolt of panic slams into his chest and Oliver sits up, somehow not waking Felicity as an urgent, "Ellie?" falls from his lips.

Nothing.

A cold chill slices down his spine, terror thrumming through his veins. He looks around the room, forcibly reminding himself to take steady breaths and not to jump to conclusions, telling himself he'd know if something had happened, if someone had been in there. Slade… no, he'd know.

But where is she?

The need to find her overrides every single thing in his head. He has to protect her. If he can't even keep her safe when she's asleep in his arms, then what chance does he have of keeping this kind of life? How can he even justify pursuing it?

He needs to keep her safe. He needs his little girl to be okay.

Only… what if he'd messed everything up? An ugly mixture of dread and horror fill his chest as his eyes fly around the room. She's not here. What if kissing Felicity, letting her see the most vulnerable parts of him, had somehow convinced her that he wasn't worth it? What if Ellie simply… wasn't anymore?

Oh god, no, no, not her, please not her. I'll do anything, please…

"Ellie?" he asks again, his voice rising.

"Shhhhh, daddy! Momma's sleeping!" chastises a little voice right before a tiny blonde head pops up over the back of the sofa.

Relief nearly bowls him over and he sags back into the bed, realizing only when he takes a breath just how fast his heart's beating.

"Ellie, what are you doing back there?" Oliver asks. "You scared me."

"I'm sorry, daddy," she says, deep concern coloring her voice at the notion of worrying him. "I was trying to play quietly. I didn't wanna wake the momma monster."

Oliver cocks his head, staring at her little guileless face before glancing back at Felicity's beautifully peaceful, still-sleeping form.

"Momma monster?" he asks with a little grin, tossing the comforter back, scooting out of bed.

"Mhmm," Ellie replies with a sure nod as Felicity moves slightly, her face crinkling at the loss of his warmth. Not waking, she scoots back into the spot he'd occupied with a contented sigh. Something clenches in his chest and Oliver almost reaches out, his palm itching to smooth her wild hair, but he stops himself and instead pulls the comforter up again, tucking it around her.

When she still doesn't wake, Oliver pads across the floor quietly.

"Momma needs coffee or she's momma monster," Ellie says quietly with utter seriousness, watching him. "Lots of 'grrrr.'"

Oliver stops a couple of feet away from her, pinching his lips together to keep from laughing out loud at the solemn lines on her face as much as the fact that she isn't exactly wrong. The few times he has seen it, Felicity is rather unhappy before she gets her coffee.

That thought makes him pause.

Do they do this often, in the future? Do he and Ellie wake up and wait for Felicity? Or do they make her coffee and sneak it in, trying to appease the momma monster? The name is something he knows would make Felicity laugh when she finally got some coffee in her system - he wouldn't be surprised if she coined it actually. He'd be too afraid to, having been at the mercy of her formidable wrath before. Which, now that he's thinking about it, probably happens way more when they get together.

He might be a dorky dad, but she's probably a dorky mom too.

God, he wants this.

Oliver glances at a clock. It's early. Too early, in fact, except for insomniac ex-castaway vigilantes and their toddler daughters, apparently.

"How 'bout we let her sleep a bit more and then we'll make her some coffee, okay?" Oliver suggests, crouching down next to Ellie.

"Can I pour the milk?" Ellie asks him hesitantly.

"Do I usually let you pour the milk?" he asks.

She sighs, little shoulders drooping and eyes downcast.

"No," Ellie admits, voice rueful and a bit downtrodden. "Sometimes it spills when I do it."

And yeah, he's a sucker because he's going to cave at this look on his daughter's face every single time she wears it. And, if he's not mistaken, she already knows it too.

"Well…" he says, tugging on the end of one of her blond springy curls. "Maybe this one time it's okay."

Her heart-stopping little grin and bright happy eyes are going to be his downfall. He doesn't have a single doubt, and he's not even sorry. In fact, he welcomes it, because damn if that isn't absolutely the way he wants to go.

"Thanks, daddy," she says throwing herself at him for a hug. "I'll be careful. I promise. I'm a big girl now. I can do it."

His arms close around her instinctively. She's so tiny, a slip of a thing entirely dwarfed by his embrace, and he's hard-pressed to think if he's ever wanted to protect anything - anyone - more than her. He doubts it.

Oliver closes his eyes and savors the feeling of his little girl in his arms, only holding her tighter when she climbs into his lap. He kisses the top of her bedhead of blonde curls. It's an incredible feeling, this absolute faith and love being thrust on him. He's never felt anything like it in his life, and it's a trust he'll carry until the end of time, doing everything in his power to not let it break, not even once.

So what if she spills the milk, he doesn't care. It'll be worth it.

Ellie pulls back a little, still perched on his knee and smiling at him in that all-encompassing joyful way that only little kids ever seem to wear so fully.

"I'm going to pour the coffee though, okay?" he asks, stroking his fingers through her hair. "I don't want you to burn yourself."

"Okay," she agrees easily. "Is it time to make coffee now?"

"In a bit, Ellie-bug," he tells her without even thinking about the nickname.

Ellie beams at it though and he's grateful she pointed it out to him last night - it's probably a really good idea to give her that sense of normalcy. She's had an awful lot of change in the last day, and that has to be incredibly confusing for a preschool-age kid, even if she can't fully grasp it all.

Oliver wonders how much of this she is understanding, if she realizes that things are just a little off or if he and Felicity - their future selves - explained what was happening to her. Is that something he should ask her? Or would that upset her, highlighting that her entire world is different?

"Are we going home today?" Ellie asks.

Oliver stares at her, his mind instantly blanking on what to say. He's not sure if she's talking about the future, or if they live somewhere else, or… what.

Would he stay here with Felicity in the future? There's a part of him that says yes, because this was his childhood home, and especially if something happens to his mother… He hadn't even considered it possible, but thinking about his mother not being alive so soon in the future hurts even more than it did last night.

"Uh, well…" Oliver hedges.

"To our Queen Manor."

Oliver pauses. "Our Queen Manor?"

"Yeah. Gramma said this is Queen Manor, but we have one too."

He has no idea how to respond. His mind races through the possibilities of that - does something happen to this place, for them to call a new home Queen Manor? Do they sell this house, or… Isabel's smirking face suddenly surfaces in his mind's eye and he wonders if she has something to do with it. She's already taken the company, he highly doubts she'll stop there considering how intertwined all the Queen assets are.

Yet another thing to worry about. As if the threat of Slade hanging over them all isn't enough. They need the team to meet, figure out their next move, formulate some kind of a plan. They need to act before Slade does. But, he thinks as he glances back towards Felicity, they'll be better off well-rested when they do.

He pushes thoughts of Slade's vendetta and Isabel's machinations away for later. It's surprisingly easy to do with his daughter there to concentrate on.

"Probably not," Oliver replies, giving her a smile, one he hopes looks more reassuring than it feels. "Later, okay?"

"What can we do now then?" she asks, blinking up at him.

"Well, we could… uh…" he starts before drawing a total blank.

It's not like she has any toys there. And Oliver doubts very much that his mother saved any of his or Thea's from when they were little. Maybe his old train set, but even that would be tucked away in some dusty corner of the attic. He doesn't even have any kids books to read to her.

"We could… color?" he suggests, wondering if he sounds as unsure to her as he definitely sounds to himself.

Ellie sighs, fully unimpressed with this suggestion. Which, yeah... that was pretty much all she'd done yesterday. He can't blame her for wanting a bit of variety.

"Can I watch Rascal the Raccoon on TV?" she asks, perking up slightly. "Momma said there was a new one soon."

He has absolutely no knowledge of children's shows these days, but even if Rascal the Raccoon is something on television now, he's pretty certain it'll be one she's seen.

"It's not on right now, honey," he tells her instead.

"But momma makes it record on the TV," Ellie insists, looking way more troubled than is warranted, like he'd just informed her the entire thing was broken.

"Uncle Barry brought you to another time, remember?" Oliver tells her gently, studying her reaction. "Mommy hasn't recorded it here."

"Oh," Ellie says with a pout... and that's it.

It's the first time he's actively mentioned time travel to her and she brushes it off like it's nothing. He has no idea if it's because she's so used to it or because she simply can't grasp the concept.

"She should then," Ellie says definitively. "It's a great show."

Oliver fights the giant smile threatening to break his face at the surety in her tone as he nods, promising, "I'll make sure she knows that."

"Can I play on her computer?" Ellie asks, raising both eyebrows and biting her lip.

Not the computer, but her computer.

Oliver just blinks at her for a moment, soaking in the faked innocence cloaking her sweet little face. So this is what his daughter looks like when she's trying to get away with something. It reminds him very strongly of Thea, actually, and he files that little bit of knowledge away for the future.

"Mommy lets you do that, huh?" he asks, raising his eyebrows back at her.

"... Sometimes," Ellie counters in a quiet voice.

"Really?" Oliver prods with a grim line to his lips and a disbelieving gaze.

"Well… she got me my own tablet," Ellie admits, looking nervous at being caught in a half-lie - which already makes her an easier child than either him or Thea. "But since I don't have it, I thought maybe I could play games on hers?"

"Nice try," Oliver tells her, fighting back a grin as she deflates.

"So what can we do?" Ellie asks, big watery eyes looking up at him. "Don't we have any games here?"

"What were you doing before I woke up?"

"I was gonna make a castle," Ellie says.

"Because you're a princess?" Oliver ventures.

To his everlasting surprise, Ellie scoffs and rolls her eyes.

"Don't be silly, daddy," she says, shaking her head. "I'm not a princess. I'm president. That's way more important than a princess."

Sometimes she's so obviously Felicity's daughter that it pulls at something deep in the core of his being. She's an incredible little girl, smarter and more sure of herself than any toddler he's ever met. She's already so much her own person that he knows without a doubt she's going to be a handful when she gets older… but every time he sees that bit of her mother in her, shining through so clearly, it makes him love her all the more.

It makes him love Felicity all the more too, which isn't a thing he'd thought was possible up until yesterday.

"I didn't think presidents had castles," he tells her.

"Well, I do," she replies in an overly lofty tone, and it's no longer Thea before him but Moira. "Because I'm president and I said so."

"And congress signed off on you building a castle?" Oliver asks.

"I'm a very good president," Ellie confides. "They listen to me."

"I'm glad that's working out for you," he says, unable to hide his amusement.

"It is," she nods with supreme confidence. "Momma even says so."

"Well… if mommy says so," he allows, poorly smothering a grin with his fingers.

"She does," Ellie assures as if this makes the statement absolute truth.

To her, it probably does. It's not far off for Oliver either, if he's being honest.

"Well, how about I help you build your castle then?" he suggests, feigning looking around as he says, "I'm not sure where to find stones though…"

"Daddy!" Ellie giggles, slipping off his lap as she shakes her head. "Not a real castle. We just need pillows and a sheet."

"Oh," Oliver says, like she's thoroughly surprised him. "Well we do have those, don't we?"

"These are excellent castle cushions," Ellie tells him with a nod, looking toward the sofa, enunciating the word 'excellent' perfectly.

How often do they do this together? It's obviously not the first time. The idea that this might be a weekend ritual or something warms his chest.

"I guess I'd better find us a sheet then," Oliver proclaims.

"Good plan, daddy," Ellie says, and he takes a second to revel in her delightful acceptance of his 'plan' before standing, heading toward the bathroom's linen closet.

It's sort of ridiculous how much he's loving this, especially considering yesterday morning he'd woken up in the cold foundry, even more tired than when he'd collapsed onto the cot at midnight - he hadn't been able to shut his mind off for even a few minutes. He'd jumped from trying to predict Slade's next move, wondering what else he should be doing to ensure nobody else fell victim to his vendetta against him, to having to play the part when it came to his mother's mayoral candidacy, smiling and pretending everything wasn't falling apart in his family, to the quiet deaths on the streets he wasn't there to stop, the people getting caught in the crossfire or falling victim to the darkness in his city, to what was happening to Roy, where he was, if he was okay, if he could save him, to how the company had slipped through his fingers and what that might mean for their assets, and to Thea, who was so angry

But the look of happiness on Ellie's face makes all of it worthwhile, makes the burden on his shoulders lighter.

He tries to imagine what any of the men the Arrow has taken down would make of the vigilante spending his morning making a pillow fort and he finds he can't. It's practically unimaginable. But maybe that's what makes it so great. Somehow… someday, he finds a way to be something else, to be someone else, someone other than just the city's would-be savior. He figures out how to be a husband and a father, the kind of man who takes his family on vacation and cocoons them in his arms and plays make-believe with his toddler. How he manages that balance, he has no idea, but the very notion that it's possible is heady.

It hits him that he still doesn't know if he and Felicity are married in this future. His gut tells him yes, because there's no way he'd not seal the deal, especially if they have another child on the way.

Another child.

Wow.

"This okay?" he asks, his voice cracking slightly with an emotion he can't name as he heads back with two gunmetal gray sets of sheets in his hands.

"Yep!" Ellie confirms, scurrying around and propping sofa cushions up with a determined look and a steady hand. "But I need your help."

"Okay, well, you're way more experienced at pillow forts than me so I'm going to follow your direction, President Ellie."

She nods like this is fully expected.

"It's science," Ellie informs him. "Momma says so."

That is kind of true, he supposes. There's gravity and balance and tension and… okay, if Felicity turns pillow forts into a basic science lesson for their daughter he's going to be fully behind that, but it's also been a solid thirteen years since he's built a pillow fort and he's sorely out of practice.

"I used to do this with your Aunt Thea, you know," he says, tucking the sheet under the feet at the back of the sofa.

"I know," Ellie tells him. "She's an excellent castle-maker, too."

He stops what he's doing and looks back at Ellie, who's busy tucking the other end of the sheet under his mattress, being very careful to not jostle the bed enough to wake Felicity. Oh yes, they've definitely done this often.

"You do this with Thea?"

"Yeah," Ellie says, looking back at him like this is obvious, like this is nothing. "Whenever I stay over with her and Uncle Roy we build a giant castle in the living room. It's fun. I make Uncle Roy be the dragon."

For some reason, that hits him on another level entirely. This is real. It was always real - he knew it was real the second he held her in his arms - but hearing about her doing something as innocuous as building pillow forts with his sister… it's throwing him. She's real, and at some point in the not-too-distant future, she's a staple in all of their lives. Somewhere, in the next few years, she's actually building pillow forts with Thea, like he used to do.

It makes him want to cling on to this version of his future even more.

So he does.

Oliver works quietly with Ellie, tucking edges of the sheet in all the appropriate places to make a little fort, a castle - Ellie's castle. Joy fills him as he builds a silly little tent with his daughter and he knows that no matter what else might happen - if she disappears in an instant or stays with them for years - he knows he'll remember this.

When it's done, Oliver stands back to survey their work, but Ellie suddenly grabs his arm, tugging him in with her. "Quick! Get in before the momma monster wakes up and attacks!"

There is no one - vigilante or not - who would ignore that sort of demand. And, without even thinking, Oliver's diving into the tent with Ellie.

There's a weird sort of glow of diffused light filtering through the sheet as the two of them huddle together and Ellie presses a finger over her lips, looking around like she's waiting for something to happen. Oliver nods at her silent command, listening too, sitting stock-still, awaiting her instruction. It would be completely absurd if he weren't so incredibly entranced.

After a moment, he whispers, "What are we waiting for?"

"As president, I say we have to be quiet," Ellie reminds him with tremendous intensity.

"Oh," Oliver replies, just as intensely. "Okay then."

Possibly she's inherited the Dearden line a little more than he'd thought, because he falls fully silent, nodding along in agreement.

Ellie's all seriousness as she reminds him, "The monster is out there, daddy."

"Right." He pauses, but after a moment when it becomes clear she isn't going to immediately say anything else, he asks, "So we're hiding?"

"Of course not," she scoffs, looking at him like he's crazy. "We're waiting for the right moment to strike back."

Oliver can't hide his breathy chuckle at that. She's definitely his daughter too, isn't she?

"Well, maybe we need to draw it out," Oliver suggests.

Ellie cocks her head, blonde springy curls bouncing to the side as she looks at him speculatively.

"How?" she asks.

"I think…" he says, scooting closer and bending down so that he's on her level, "that monsters are drawn to laughing."

"Laughing?" she asks, eyes narrowing at him in suspicion.

"Like, say… if someone were tickled."

Her eyes go wide and her little mouth makes a circle as she blinks at him.

"Daddy, no." She shakes her head, but she's already grinning. "The monster will come!"

"That's the idea!" he reminds her and then he grabs her, tickling her sides.

Ellie squeals, twisting in his arms, laughing uproariously as she throws herself away from his assault. It's only his well-honed reflexes that keep her from tumbling backwards as his fingers tease her armpits, leaving her giggling breathlessly, managing a, "Daddy… stop!" before it's drowned out in more laughter.

He can't help but chuckle along as she wriggles around, trying to push him back just as much as she tries to crawl away, but he doesn't let her.

"Daddy!" she protests half-heartedly, her little hands pushing on his fingers and he stops, pulling her back into his lap.

There's a rustle of fabric nearby and Ellie's eyes go wide at the sound.

"Do you think it worked?" Oliver asks her, tweaking her nose.

She's still catching her breath, wide eyes on the sheet as she sagely says, "You are very silly to try to wake momma monster without coffee, daddy."

Normally, he'd agree. But this is as new to Felicity as it is to him and he knows with absolute certainty that she'll be as spellbound by Ellie as he is. She doesn't need coffee to wake her up, not today.

Ellie is earth-shattering enough all on her own.

"What's all this?" Felicity asks tiredly before poking her sleep-creased face under the sheet. Every instinct Oliver has is telling him to drag her under the sheet with them and hold her close, but he doesn't. He just smiles softly as she eases down on the floor, looking around at their fort.

"Eep!" Ellie shrieks, jittering in his arms. "Daddy, it worked! The momma monster is attacking!"

"Are you sure?" Oliver asks, his smile growing as he stares at the 'momma monster' in all her beautiful glory. "It looks less like an attack and more like a 'good morning' to me."

Felicity yawns as he talks, ducking under the sheet to crawl in with them. Her jaw cracks and she shudders against the strain of her muscles trying desperately to wake up and she's so unbelievably cute and sexy at the same time, it takes everything Oliver has not to pull her into his arms and kiss her. He wants to - god, he wants to - not that that's anything new. As he watches her get situated, he lets himself think about that. He's wanted to hold her, to kiss her, for a long time, a lot longer than just the last few hours. It was never on the table, he'd never considered it, but now…

"You sleep okay?" he asks her, his voice soft and gentle, his hand settling on hers before he realizes what he's doing. When he does, he doesn't move it.

"Mmm," Felicity agrees, leaning over to kiss Ellie's temple, who leans into it as she scrunches up her nose. "I slept great and then I woke up to laughter, which is way better than an alarm clock. Even if the alarm clock was programmed to sound like laughter. I feel like that wouldn't be the same, you know?" She yawns again, nodding, talking through it, "This is better, much better."

It might be on the verge of a typical Felicity-babble, but - like most of them - it's honest. She's right. You can't bottle this kind of happiness, but that doesn't mean he doesn't wish he could. He's never felt anything like this - it bubbles in his veins like fine champagne, leaving him giddy and happy, and it's been so long since he's felt this that he can't get over how much he'd forgotten what it felt like in the first place.

"Definitely better," Oliver whispers, staring at her.

She turns to him, still half-asleep, with a muted, "Hmm?"

He just shakes his head with a soft smile. "Nothing."

Oliver knows she's waking up because she tilts her head, furrowing her brow, hearing more than what he's saying, in that Felicity way that she's always had. He's never been able to keep things from her, even when he sincerely tried, because she knows him too well. She always has.

And as the silence stretches between them, he knows she's seeing everything he's not saying.

Felicity doesn't move her hand, but her thumb shifts, almost like she's testing the waters. When he doesn't move, doesn't do anything but let her lead, she lets her fingers slide between his. A thin sheen of apprehension fills her eyes as she searches his. Oliver doesn't blink, doesn't look away. Instead he holds her stare, lets it wash over him, lets her presence wash over him.

She opens her mouth, taking a deep breath to speak, when Ellie interrupts.

"Are you ready for coffee, momma?"

"What?" Felicity asks, blinking at her.

"Coffee," Ellie says again. "Daddy said I could pour the milk because I'm a big girl."

"You are," Felicity agrees nodding. "Very big. Shockingly so, actually. Did you grow overnight?" She reaches over with her free hand - she doesn't let his hand go and he fights the urge to pull her closer again as she picks up one of Ellie's legs to check its length. "These look longer." Ellie makes a series of squeaky noises that dissolve into giggles when Felicity's fingers drift near her toes, making Oliver chuckle. "Did you get you taller? Maybe we should get you a job as a barista."

"Momma!" Ellie laughs, shaking her head. "You're silly."

"Maybe a little," Felicity agrees, smiling down at the girl with bright eyes, as Oliver smiles at her.

He knows full well in that moment that either one of them would happily make themselves look like a fool just to hear the sound of their little girl's laughter, just to see joy spread across the expanse of her tiny face. They'd both do anything for her, and they clearly do, considering where she is right now.

He's transfixed.

The adoration is evident on Felicity's face, her hand warm in his. Their daughter's chattering voice fills the tiny space, forcing Felicity's lips to pucker in a little 'o' shape as she responds, and his eyes drop to her mouth…

He kissed those lips last night. It'd been so involuntary, almost rash, but hearing her tentative words, her trying to give him an out just in case, that she was afraid it was all on her side and she didn't want him to feel like he had to do something just because they know about Ellie, about their future… he couldn't have stopped himself even if he'd wanted to, because that was so not what he was doing.

He didn't want to push her, he didn't want to do anything too soon, or make her uncomfortable, or make her feel like she had to do something she didn't want to…

Her fears are his fears, and as he watches her talk to Ellie, stares at her bedraggled hair, the oversized shirt starting to slip off her naked shoulder, the creases along her jaw from the pillow, her glasses sitting slightly askew on her nose. It's all a sharp contrast to the vivid light in her every move, her bright blue eyes, her gorgeous grin as Ellie describes about how he helped build the fort.

She wants this, he can see it, she wants it every bit as much as he does.

"Felicity."

She looks at him just as a tentative knock raps on their door, cutting him off.

Oliver knows without even asking who it is.

"You can come in, mom," he calls out as Ellie scrabbles for the edge of the sheet, peeking around it.

Whether it's the imminent presence of his mother or just the outside world creeping in, Oliver isn't sure, but Felicity starts to pull her hand away from his. It's not a sudden jolt - it's not like she's a teenager caught in a compromising position - but her fingers ease away from his anyhow and he doesn't like it, he doesn't like that she feels like she needs to pulls away.

It feels wrong, given this new reality they've woken to...

So his fingers chase hers.

Oliver slips his hand into hers and she looks at him with blatant surprise… and then her brow furrows with hesitant hopefulness. He smiles, a tiny quick turn of his lips, but it's real, and she sees it as he meets her gaze.

There's nothing to hide here, not anymore. There never really was, except for when it came to his feelings for her. But now, now there's no reason to hide them and he lets her see everything.

The connection between them is fresh and raw - naked. It should be a big, scary thing, but it's not.

"Oh my…" Moira says from outside their tent. "It's been a long time since there's been a fort in this house."

Oliver doesn't miss the note of wistful longing in her voice.

"It's a castle," Ellie corrects, lying on her stomach with her head poked through the sheet and her bare feet kicking up in the air right next to Felicity.

"My apologies," Moira offers up, all typical regal grace and propriety.

"It's okay," Ellie tells her with a long-suffering sigh. "Daddy made the same mistake."

"Hey, mom," Oliver says, lifting up the corner of the sheet at that to look up at his mother from where he and Felicity are sitting cross-legged under the makeshift tent. He still doesn't let go of her hand, though she tenses like maybe she's expecting him to and he can feel her eyes still focused on him. He's so far past forcing distance between them at this point, he can barely remember what it was like to do it just a mere day ago.

"Good morning, Oliver," Moira says, leaning down to peek inside. Felicity starts to tug on his hand again but he doesn't let go and he definitely doesn't miss Moira noticing their intertwined fingers. "Good morning, Felicity."

"Uh, hi," Felicity says, running her hand through her hair. Oliver has to bite his tongue to keep the, 'You're beautiful,' from rolling off his lips, but not because it's not his place. More because it's just for them, and it's definitely not just them right now.

"I thought perhaps I might see if Ellie would like some waffles," Moira offers up.

"With strawberries?"

It's both Ellie and Oliver who answer, their tones ridiculously similar, full of hope and cautious optimism, recognizing what an awesome treat it was when they got strawberries with their waffles.

Oliver doesn't miss the amused little sound that falls from Felicity's lips.

His reaction is completely involuntary and he knows damn well that his level of excitement over the prospect of his mother's strawberry waffles is better suited for someone his daughter's age, but no one makes strawberry waffles like Moira Queen. They also happen to still be his favorite breakfast indulgence, even though he can't remember the last time she made them.

Years, it's been years.

He's not even a little bit sorry for the childish thrill of anticipation that rolls through him, especially when he sees the look on his mother's face - she's reached the same realization he has about how long it's been since she's made those waffles, and it strikes him how much younger she suddenly looks.

"I think I can manage that," Moira answers, delighted affection dancing in her eyes as she looks from Oliver to Ellie and shakes her head before stretching out a hand. "I thought you might like to help, Ellie?"

"Can I?" Ellie asks, practically vibrating with excitement as she looks back at Felicity. "Can I please, momma?"

"Sure," Felicity says easily. She glances towards Oliver as she speaks. "We'll join you in a few minutes, okay?"

"Okay!" Ellie chirps, clambering to her feet and taking Moira's hand. "Can there be whipped cream, gramma?"

Oliver's heart trips all over itself at that, the sound of his daughter calling his mother 'gramma,' but it doesn't seem to faze his mom even a little. She just smiles down at Ellie with a patiently maternal sort of look he hasn't seen since he was a kid. She says something in response as the two of them make their way out of the room, though he's got no idea what as he watches them, together - his mom and his daughter.

This is the only time he'll have this.

Now.

By the time Ellie comes into their lives, his mother is long gone.

His shoulders fall as Moira closes the door behind her.

He's not sure how he's supposed to deal with that…

"Your mother just saw me in my pajamas."

… and just as quickly, Felicity grounds him.

There's a slightly hysterical note to her voice that Oliver suspects has a whole lot more to do with the summation of everything that's happened in the last day than it does with his mother.

Probably.

"I doubt she even noticed," Oliver tells her, letting the sheet drop back down, cocooning them in the tent together. "And she definitely didn't care."

"Please," Felicity scoffs, self-consciously tucking her impressively frizzy hair behind her ear. "Your mother has been perfectly coiffed every day of her life. She probably wakes up looking like that. Little pixies do her hair and makeup in her sleep or something." Her eyes widen. "Oh god, I'm not wearing makeup!"

"You're not…?" Oliver stops for a split second, blinking - that's what she's worried about? He snorts, the sound disappearing in a short laugh as he shakes his head. "Felicity, you're being ridiculous."

"I am not being ridiculous, Oliver," she chastises. He snorts again and she narrows her eyes. "I'm not, I'm being serious here." She furrows her brow, her lips jutting out in a tiny pout that makes her look far more endearing than should be allowed and he grins, because he can't help it. "This is my future mother-in-law we're talking about and she's silently judging me as we speak, a little sympathy would…"

Oliver freezes. He sees the moment her words catch up with her and a cornered look of horror washes over her face, her skin turning ashy.

"I didn't mean… that we…" Felicity shakes her head, trying to take her hand back again, but he's still not letting her go. "I'm not saying…"

"Yes, you did," he interrupts.

That stops her.

"You did mean it," Oliver repeats, pulling her hand up. He doesn't know what he's doing until he's pressing his lips to her knuckles, kissing them softly, quietly savoring the way her breath catches - both in surprise and something else that makes his stomach clench. "And that's okay."

"Oliver…"

"We're not… there," he acknowledges.

"Oh god, not even by a longshot," Felicity manages, her eyes on his lips where they're resting on her hand. There's a slight tremor running along the edge of her fingers, but when he looks, he finds a smile on her lips, one that's the complete antithesis to the reluctance in her eyes. "Oliver…"

"But we have every reason to believe we're on our way."

"That's…" Felicity starts, but her voice trails off as she clearly has no idea how to finish whatever it was she'd started to say. "Oliver…"

"This is all new," he says, the words holding the same weight as what he'd said the night before. "And a bit overwhelming." That might be the understatement of the year. "But I'd say we're both handling it pretty well."

"You mean… being parents to a bouncing three-year-old?" she asks, her eyes searching his face.

"And us, being... us," he adds.

"Us?" she asks, sounding like she's sure she heard him wrong. "So there is… an 'us'?"

"Felicity…" he says, shaking his head and huffing out a quick breath. "I think we both know there's been an 'us' for a whole lot longer than we were ready to admit."

"No." She shakes her head and his heart drops for a moment until she continues, waving her hand between them. "No, we did not know that. Half of 'we' thought she had an embarrassing, horribly inappropriate, one-sided crush from hell that just wouldn't die."

"It was never one-sided," he says.

Felicity's already shaking her head. "But you… and we…"

She blinks rapidly, her unpainted lips parted in a look of surprise that makes him want to kiss her just to prove a point. He doesn't though. He listens, just like he said he would last night, because this is definitely something they need to talk about, especially if they're going to move forward.

"But you never said anything!" Felicity blurts. "I mean, there was last night… but does that count?"

Oliver frowns. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that you are someone who sees something in front of him and… doesn't see it… no, that's not what I mean. Or maybe it is what I mean, I don't know, I can't think because this is… a lot." Felicity closes her eyes. He can practically hear the wheels turning in her head, and it takes everything in him to sit still, to wait. When she finally opens her eyes, they're clear… and full of questions. "Oliver, if there's been an 'us' this entire time, why now, if not…?"

"No," Oliver says, shaking his head, hearing what she's not saying. "Felicity…"

"And what about Sara… and Helena and McKenna and Laurel. Oh my god, Laurel. Oliver, this is crazy. You've been in love with Laurel for, like, ever. If there's someone you're supposed to be all 'happily ever after' with, it's her. Not me… even though we do, apparently, it's still-"

"I'm not in love with Laurel," Oliver interrupts, feeling the truth of that in a way that seems more final than it ever has before. "I haven't been for a very long time."

"Oliver," Felicity says, shaking her head like it's the only thing she can do. "I was here, I saw you. I saw what you went through these last few years. I saw all the… women, in your life - and while it probably doesn't match your pre-island quota, there were definitely quite a few - all with Laurel being like this… this..." She waved her hand, struggling to find the right word. "Ghost or something, always there. And then Sara…"

"I love Sara," Oliver interjects, and her jaw snaps shut. He can see the dread filling her eyes and he says, "But I wasn't in love with her. I don't think I've ever been in love with Sara. I was… I was with her because it was easy, because she's like me… because I didn't have to worry about her getting hurt or killed just because she was with me."

"Oliver," Felicity starts, but he doesn't give her the chance.

"Sara knows me, but not… she knows me in a way that makes everything easier, because I don't have to open up certain parts of myself when I'm with her. I can be me… without really letting her in…"

Felicity stares at him, her face unreadable, as his own words start sinking in.

"I was with her because it was safe."

The truth of what he's saying slams into him.

Inevitable.

Sara knew.

She'd called their breakup inevitable… because it had been, since the beginning, since she'd come back. He was the one who'd gone in with blinders on. She'd known exactly what they'd had and exactly how it was going to end, because the exact same reason he was with her was why she was with him.

He wasn't risking anything with Sara, not like he would be with Felicity - and god, he'd be risking so much with her, he'd be risking everything… but it'd be worth it. There is physical proof that it's worth it in the form of their daughter downstairs making strawberry waffles with her grandmother.

It's worth it.

"I think you're confused," Felicity says, trying to pull her hand away from his. "Or maybe you hit your head when you were fighting Slade and now you're suffering from short-term amnesia." Her voice wavers. "A lot has changed, just like you said last night, and you're going into shock because if you think I'm going to believe you're over Sara that quickly - if you're over Laurel that quickly…"

She tugs on her hand again and he whispers, "Felicity," before reluctantly letting her go, his fingers instantly itching to take it back.

"You're confused," she reiterates, lacing her fingers together in a tight group. "And it's understandable, because hi, major life change in the form of a three-year-old, but…"

"I'm not confused," Oliver counters, raising his voice over hers. He goes on before she can continue. "I… I have clung to the idea of Laurel for a really long time. A really long time. Her picture in my pocket gave me the drive to survive on the island, a drive I needed there."

Felicity's quiet, letting him speak - he's never talked about this, not with anyone; the last person he talked to about that damn picture was Slade, ironically enough. He finds himself wanting to go on, to say more, to explain more, and he's not sure if he's saying it for her or for him anymore.

"But… even before I wound up on Lian Yu, I don't know that what we had was love." Oliver stares at her, willing her to see what he's saying. "It definitely wasn't at the end. I was… fixated, when I got back, yes, but for all the wrong reasons, something I had to learn the hard way." He pauses, searching for the right words. "Sometimes… sometimes it's harder to let go of the idea of someone than it is to let go of the actual person."

Felicity bites her lip as she looks at him, wariness lining her eyes, her body tense like she's bracing for some kind of letdown, like he just confirmed everything she's been saying. She shifts, her hands falling to her sides, and he knows it will take one push and she'll be up on her feet and away from him… but she doesn't move, and that gives him hope just as much as it reassures him, because he's not going to give her a reason to leave. He's not going to do that to her, not now, not ever again.

He has to show her that… but how?

Say it.

She needs more. She needs more than just reassurances that he's not in love with Laurel, or Sara, that he's not just here because of Ellie. She needs some reason to believe he could fall in love with her… some inkling of the notion that he's already more than halfway there.

"Coming back home was like living in a fog," Oliver says, reaching out his hand. He doesn't take hers, but he rests beside it, letting his fingers brush against hers, still giving her space to move away if she wants to. "For so long, I couldn't trust anyone, I couldn't rely on anyone, for anything, and... when that goes on, for so long, you stop seeing people for… people. They became… threats. Or targets. And when I decided to come home, I didn't… I didn't know how to turn that part of me off… But then I met you." She inhales sharply and he moves a little closer, letting his hand touch hers more fully. She doesn't move away from him. "You were the first person I could see as a… person. There was just something about you, and… and you made me laugh, Felicity. I'd forgotten what that had even sounded like. At that point, I wasn't sure I could be anything other than the Hood. But you… Felicity, the Hood may have come back on his own to Starling, but you're the one who brought me back."

She's quiet for a moment, scarcely breathing. Surprise plays across her face as she searches his eyes for any indication that this isn't real, that she's heard him wrong… but she won't find it. He means every single word he's said. He means them with every ounce of his being.

"Why… why didn't you say anything?" Felicity asks, voice breaking a little as her fingers tangle with his again. The slight movement has his heart soaring as her eyes keep searching his.

"I didn't think I had room in my life for being with someone I'd want a future with," he reminds her, echoing back to that awful talk after they'd come home from Russia. "Obviously… I was wrong."

They're sitting cross-legged on the floor of his room inside a tent of sheets and cushions that their daughter from the future made and he's completely poured his heart out to her in a way he never really thought he would… and it suddenly occurs to him that he's terrified. It's all on her now. He just handed her his heart, completely unhindered, and all it will take is a simple yes or no to decide what happens next.

Oliver waits, for something, for anything.

Felicity just stares at him silently, letting his words soak in. His heart's beating so loudly he probably wouldn't hear anything she says anyway; it's so loud he's surprised she can't hear it.

She doesn't say anything, and the silence starts to become deafening, growing heavier with each passing second.

Her eyes are too much for him - piercing and strikingly blue, eyes he wants to wake up next to every day for the rest of his life… he's letting himself want that, and it's making the silence even heavier. Oliver looks down at their hands instead. They're tangled together the way they should be; they're warm and soft and it takes him a moment to realize that she's not pulling away.

Still, she's quiet… and Felicity's never quiet.

But she's not pulling away.

It takes him a few seconds longer than it should to realize her other hand is moving and when he does, he jumps. His attention snaps back to her with a sudden rush of desperate hope welling in his gut, half-afraid of what he'll find but even more afraid to not look.

His sudden movement makes her pause, her fingers hovering next to his face, and Oliver nods, barely moving, just enough for her to see.

Felicity touches his cheek.

She's hesitant. He can read it all over her, but there's a new vulnerability that wasn't there before. She's searching his eyes for something, and he wonders if she finds it… and maybe she does because he sees the resolve slipping over her beautiful face when she makes her decision. He can see the moment where she does, and Oliver lets out a breath he didn't even realize he'd been holding, a smile tugging at his lips.

She smiles, like it's a natural reaction to his as her gaze drifts down to his mouth… and then she's leaning in closer.

Oliver's heart jumps to life. She's near enough that they're sharing air, that her nose is brushing against his. He shudders out a little gasp, moving to cup her face, his hand trembling slightly, but he doesn't care. Felicity is damned near in his lap, all his cards are on the table in a way they never have been before - everything, he's shown her everything - and she's not running away.

He honestly has no idea how he got so lucky.

"Felicity," he murmurs with a breathless sigh, nuzzling his nose against hers and savoring her sharp intake of air as their lips brush against each other.

He wants to pull her fully onto his lap, he wants to kiss her with all of the passion and affection that his words can't quite express, but this has to be her choice. He already took that away from her last night when he kissed her, and while he knows she wants this - if it's him, or Ellie, or the entire picture, he's not sure just yet - he isn't about to take that choice away from her.

He can't - he won't - and he'll wait until she…

Felicity kisses him.

Oliver's mind blanks as she presses her lips against his, abruptly moving closer the second they touch.

He's vaguely aware that she's pressed up against him now, that he can feel her, and that she feels amazing, just as good and warm and perfect as he'd always imagined. They both definitely have a slight case of morning breath and they should probably go downstairs where their daughter and his mother are waiting for them and they have a laundry list of issues long enough to cover the expanse of his room that they need to deal with - personal and emotional, sure, but also including the fact that a madman from his past is intent on burning everything to the ground. None of that matters at the moment. Because right now, he just doesn't care.

Because it's just this. It's just them.

Oliver moans just as Felicity lets out a tremulous sigh against his lips.

They move at the same time.

Felicity pushes herself closer, up onto her knees so she's hovering over him, her hands cupping his face, her tongue running along his bottom lip with a breathy gasp that he feels in his bones.

He's floating. There's no other way to describe it. The second she'd touched his cheek, the second she'd looked into his eyes, when he'd known she was there with him, it was like everything clicked into place. He's kissing her, this woman he'd never let himself think about, the woman he'd always had to look at from afar, who he told himself he could never have… she's there, with him, and it's more than he could have ever imagined.

She's close, but she's not close enough, and his hands drop down to her hips, his fingers grazing along her gentle curves. Oliver leans into her, pressing himself closer to her, but he needs more.

Before he can think twice, he pulls her into his lap, tugging her flush against him. Felicity gives him a soft whimper as she straddles him and Oliver swallows the little sound, cradling her in his arms, kissing her with a slow-growing urgency that's making their confined space very, very hot.

Her hands are in his hair, her nails scraping against his scalp, her strong legs wrapping around his waist. He holds her tighter, seeking the warmth of her embrace just as much as he wants to hold her in his.

It's too fast. He knows this - he knows it - but he doesn't want to stop. It's everything he's dreamt about, thought about, wondered about… all the things he couldn't have, but now he can. It's all right here and he can't help but take what she's offering, because it's Felicity. He wants her. He wants the life he's going to have with her. He wants their daughter and their future - he wants it all.

That thought echoes the fact that she's right there with him, meeting him every step of the way, and the intensity of it is too much. Oliver pulls away for a second, gasping for air, every inch of him on fire with awareness as he leans into her. Her lips graze his forehead - she's breathing just as hard as he is, and her heart's pounding. He can feel it, echoing his, just as he can feel her trembling.

"Oliver…"

She's so warm and soft and perfect… He's never felt this way with someone, not in his entire life, and they've barely been doing anything for more than a minute.

Is it because he's wanted this for so long or is this how it will always be with her?

"This is…" she starts, fighting for air.

He nods with a barely audible, "Yeah."

They don't move, taking a second, and… and then she settles deeper in his lap, shifting her legs to sink down against him, and he can't help himself. He doesn't want to. With a needy groan, Oliver turns his face back up to hers blindly, his hands sliding up her back, one slipping up under her shirt.

Felicity's right there with him, her lips seeking his.

Oliver kisses her, delighting in her little moan as his hand spans the width of her naked back. She wraps her arms around his shoulders, holding him as close as she can, opening for him, giving him everything he could want from her.

Just as he whispers, "God, Felicity," with every intention of taking her invitation, he hears the hinge on the door whine slightly.

They barely have time to rip themselves away from the other before Ellie pulls the sheet up.

"Gramma told me to tell you that the first batch of waffles is almost done!"

"Oh, okay, alright," Felicity says, pushing her hands through her hair as she nods, smiling at their daughter. Oliver adjusts slightly, just enough to hide his growing, er… problem. "Mommy and daddy will be down in a minute, okay, sweetie?"

"Okay, but you have to hurry because she said there aren't a lot of strawberries and that if you guys want waffles with strawberries, you need to come and get them right now," Ellie says.

"Oh, well then, we better get down there," Felicity responds before sliding a look to Oliver. "Something tells me Moira's Moiraness is hereditary."

Oliver huffs out a chuckle.

"And she's making them just like you do, daddy!" Ellie continues, her eyes bright.

"Oh yeah?" he asks, feeling a tug in his chest at the thought that he makes his daughter the waffles his mother makes him, of sharing that with her.

Ellie nods with a grin before spinning away, letting the sheet fall back down. They listen to the quiet patter of her feet slowly disappearing.

Neither of them move.

"Well, that just happened," Felicity says, a nervous trill in her voice. She nods, furrowing her brow, moving towards the sheet. "I'll just…"

Oliver doesn't let her finish - he grabs her, pulling her flush against him again, his lips finding hers.

It's a heart-stopping mixture of the sweet, gentle kiss from last night and the passionate one they'd just shared, and it makes every inch of him stand at attention just as much as it settles something deep inside.

When they pull back, they're both breathless.

"I'm glad it did," Oliver says.

"Hmm?" Felicity asks, her eyes still closed, and he grins, pushing his hands through her hair. She shivers in response, biting her bottom lip lightly and he makes a mental note of that before kissing her again.

And again.

He doesn't want to stop, he never wants to stop.

"Waffles," Felicity whispers, and he hums his agreement, but he doesn't stop kissing her. "Waffles are… waiting and..." His lips cover hers again, muffling the rest of her words. She grins, pulling back just enough to say, "And your mother."

That stops him.

With a quiet groan, Oliver pushes his forehead against hers. "I guess we should go down."

"Yeah," Felicity says… and yet, neither of them move. "Moving… any time now."

Oliver just closes his eyes, angling his head so his lips brush softly against hers. She's trembling and she holds him a little tighter.

He's about to pull her back into his lap, waffles be damned, when the sound of Ellie running towards the room with a breathless, "Gramma wants to know if you guys are coming," interrupts them.

Felicity closes her eyes. "Oh, that is so not something I needed to hear coming from her mouth."

Oliver grins, giving her a quick kiss before he says, "Tell her we'll be right there, Ellie-bug."

"Okay," the toddler replies, and then she's off again.

"I think I'm going to take a shower," Felicity says.

"And miss the waffles?" Oliver asks.

"Save me one with strawberries." She leans in, but before her lips touch his she pauses, hesitating, and Oliver closes the gap for her, not willing to let any opportunity to kiss her pass. Felicity grins against him, clearly in favor of his decision as she amends, "Or two."

"There are two Queen women downstairs, you really think I stand a chance?" Oliver teases, and she pulls back, cocking her head, a little line forming between her brows. "What?"

"Ellie told me that I have a company, called Queen, Inc."

Felicity pauses, not because he needs a second to process what she's saying - her own company, that's fantastic - but because she's clearly not sure how to say what she wants to say.

"Do you think we're… that we're, you know… married?" she asks just as the faint echo of the doorbell ringing filters from downstairs, followed by Ellie - who is clearly still up there, waiting for them - saying, "I'll get it!"

Chapter Text

"I'll get it!"

It's the sound of Ellie's exclamation that has Felicity and Oliver simultaneously reaching for the sheet and scrambling out, nearly ripping down the tent he and Ellie had painstakingly constructed in their haste as Oliver says, "Ellie, wait!" as Felicity yells, "Don't answer that!"

The idea of Slade ringing the doorbell is so amazingly ridiculous that it can't possibly be him, but it could also be anyone. And the list of 'anyone's' that don't need to see Ellie is so long it could wrap around the world a hundred times… which might be a slight exaggeration considering the billions of people who have zero interest in how the Queens spend their time, but still.

That also doesn't mean someone else didn't see her when she was at Queen Consolidated earlier.

Isabel.

What would Isabel care about a mystery child from Oliver's past? She's already got the company.

Still.

Felicity's brain is misfiring left and right as she and Oliver rush down the hallway - how in the world that kid has already memorized this place is beyond her; Felicity's been here just as long and she's still turned around - when the front door opens.

"Ellie, wait!" Oliver says, his voice carrying through the anteroom as they reach the stairs… but Ellie's on the landing of the left staircase, staring up at them. They both stop for a split second, and Felicity wonders if Oliver's feeling the same relief that's running rampant through her before he jogs down the stairs with a soft, "Hey."

"I was waiting, daddy, I know not to answer the door without you," she says. She pointed towards the door. "But Raisa beat you."

"Good, that's good," Oliver says, and Felicity can see the plaintive smile on his face as he reaches their daughter. "C'mere, baby."

He scoops her up, turning to face the front door, partially hiding her from view, looking torn between wanting to go down there and see who's at the door and staying right there, hiding her - she votes for the latter because really, threat or not, the less people who see Ellie, the better. Felicity's right behind him, and she moves to stand in front of them, although what exactly she thinks she's going to do is beyond her…

"It's Uncle Diggle!" Ellie exclaims with a giant grin as the visitor comes into view. She wiggles in Oliver's arms. "Daddy, I want down."

"Hey," Diggle says, stepping into the foyer, holding a few sheets of folded papers and a small duffle bag. He gives Raisa a grateful nod where she's holding the door open for him just as Ellie slips out of her father's arms and dashes around Felicity, heading straight for him.

Diggle's immediate response is to stop dead in his tracks, his eyebrows meeting his hairline.

One second he's got nothing but papers and a plastic bag, and in the next there's an Ellie in the mix as she launches herself at him.

Felicity can see the split second of hesitation on Diggle's face - should he pick her up, or head her off, or point her back at them - but maybe it's the pure expectation and glee on the little girl's face that has that hesitation disappearing and then he's leaning down to pick her up.

"Hi!" Ellie says as Diggle hauls her up, letting out a heavy whoosh of air.

"Hi yourself," he replies. He shifts her onto one arm, covertly holding the papers and bag behind his back with his other hand as he asks, "Anyone ever tell you you should consider a career as a linebacker?"

"I am one," Ellie says matter-of-factly, prompting an amused grin to light up Diggle's face. "We have our own team, 'member? You're coach, Sara's a fullback, Aunt Lyla is a safety, and Uncle Roy is the quarterback. And Aunt Thea plays the tackle. And when daddy plays, momma calls him the tight end."

Diggle huffs out a chuckle, saying, "The tight end, huh?" as his eyes slip over to where she and Oliver are.

All it takes is one quick glance from him for Felicity to remember that she and Oliver are rather… unkempt.

That's one way to put it.

They're both barefoot, something she's distinctly aware of as she steps off the stairs onto the cool marbled floor, and Felicity doesn't have to see a mirror to know her hair's still a tangled mess from bed, and her shirt is mussed and her lips… well, if they look as swollen and used as they feel

She'd just been kissing Oliver.

No, she'd just made out with Oliver - with Oliver Queen, the Oliver Queen, her Oliver Queen… well not her Oliver Queen like he's hers… except oh this gets confusing - and, anyhow, now Diggle's staring at them like he knows exactly what they'd been doing and everything she's currently thinking and he finds it funny as hell.

"Good morning, you two," Diggle says. Felicity feels a blush creep up her neck, making her ears feel oddly hot as he grins at them, a grin she really wants to glare at, especially when Oliver's hand lands on her lower back like he knows exactly what she's feeling. Diggle doesn't miss it. "I see it's been very good."

Felicity opens her mouth to say something - something good, something really good and logical and full of explanations - just as Oliver raises a hand towards Diggle, like he's warding the other man off, but Ellie cuts them all off.

"Are you here for daddy's strawberry waffles?" Ellie asks, pulling Diggle's attention back to her.

Diggle's eyes find Oliver's, his eyebrows going higher, if that's even possible. "Uh…"

"Aunt Lyla says you're a strawberry hog," Ellie continues and Diggle almost looks affronted. "But you can't hog all the strawberries this time because there's not a lot."

"Aunt Lyla… She said that, huh?" he ask, his initial surprise at the honorary title shifting to something drier.

"Yep. But you can't eat all of them, Uncle Diggle, because we don't have enough."

"Okay," Diggle says with a chuckle. "How about I promise not to hog all the strawberries this time?"

Ellie nods. "That's a good plan. I'll make sure daddy has extra for you next time."

"That's very nice of you." Diggle looks back at Oliver, a smile playing on his lips. "And I'm very interested to see your daddy in the kitchen."

Felicity doesn't have to look at Oliver to know he's giving Diggle a tired look.

Ellie shakes her head. "He's not making them. Gramma is, just like how daddy does."

"Gramma?" Diggle echoes, his eyes narrowing with unanswered questions.

"Yep," Ellie says. She stretches her head to look behind Diggle. When she can't see all the way around him, she leans all the way over, trusting him completely to not let her fall as she reaches as far as she can, forcing Diggle to readjust her. "Is Sara here?"

"Sara?" Diggle repeats, furrowing his brow.

"Yeah, momma said the next time she comes over we could make cookies. Sara's really good at making cookies, Aunt Lyla taught her how to make designs, and Aunt Lyla was going to teach me and daddy how to make them."

Past the fact that they're all learning that Oliver must practically live in the kitchen in the future, Felicity realizes that it's not their Sara she's talking about. It's Diggle's daughter Sara. Felicity's eyes widen. Diggle doesn't know he has a daughter, or that her name is Sara. Should he know? Would it make any difference if they knew about her and he didn't?

Suddenly it strikes her as very interesting that they name her Sara.

Why would they name her Sara? She didn't think they were that close.

The thought process and its possibilities have her head spinning, and she's about to divert the conversation, but Diggle beats her to it.

"Sara had other things to do, munchkin," Diggle replies, but the line between his brows hasn't disappeared, and Felicity wonders what he's thinking.

"Oh," Ellie says, disappointment coloring her tone.

"I'm sure she'll come over when she's done though."

Ellie instantly brightens. "Okay!"

Raisa steps forward from where she'd closed the front door. "Will you be staying for breakfast, Mr. Diggle?"

"Yes," Oliver says before Diggle has the chance to respond. He nods, giving Raisa a smile. "He will."

"I'll let Mrs. Queen know," Raisa responds, moving back towards the kitchen, but not before giving Oliver a warm smile in return.

Felicity wonders if it's her imagination that the Russian woman's face grows softer, almost hopeful, when she sees them standing together, as disheveled as they are. She decides yes because her head is still a little fuzzy from the fact that she just made out with her future husband… er, boyfriend, or… fiancé? Why is that such an important thing for her to know all of a sudden?

"She also wanted me to tell you that breakfast is almost ready, Mr. Oliver."

"Thank you, Raisa."

The older woman nods before disappearing down a hallway.

Oliver's never mentioned her before, not once, but the love between them is evident. It's a stark reminder that Felicity's seeing things she never, ever, ever thought she'd get to see, and it's only making everything that's happened in the last fourteen hours super vivid.

"You wanna go help finish breakfast while I talk to your, uh, mom and dad?" Diggle asks Ellie.

"Okay," Ellie says and Diggle sets her down. "I'll make sure gramma saves some strawberries for you."

He chuckles warmly. "Thanks, Ellie."

Ellie turns to run back into the kitchen but Oliver leans down, catching her arm before she can get very far. "Hey, Speed Racer, let's not run in the house, okay?"

"Okay, but gramma told me to hurry," Ellie replies. "I stir the batter and she cuts the strawberries. She cuts them just like you do, daddy."

"Well now you know who taught me," Oliver says, tugging her shirt down. Felicity blinks, an emotion she's not ready to name filling her chest at that - he doesn't even realize what he's doing, he's just being a dad. She bites her lip to stem the smile threatening to take over her face as Oliver pats Ellie's hip. "No running, please."

"Okay," Ellie says, turning back towards the kitchen, still taking off at a clipped pace.

They all watch her go and when she disappears around the corner, Felicity glances at Oliver.

Her heart clenches at the gentle smile on his face.

He's different, and it's not just the smile that makes him look years younger, it's more than that, it's deeper. He's lighter, more free than she's ever seen him before. His shoulders aren't as drawn down, the lines in his face are softer, almost gone, and the circles under his eyes are missing. But it's the shadows in his eyes… they're faded, less intense. It's almost like knowing about Ellie, knowing he can have more than the cold, dank foundry she knew he'd always believed was his destiny, has given him…

Hope.

That's what she's seeing.

It's amazing how much it's changing him, and even more amazing how little he's always had.

Oliver's always been a gorgeous man, there was never any question of that, but right now he's beautiful… and this beautiful man just kissed her, just told her he wants to be with her, that he wants this, that he's wanted it for a long time… with her.

"Whoa," Felicity whispers, out loud, causing him to look at her.

His smile doesn't disappear.

More whoa.

Her mind's running seven thousand miles an hour as she processes what she's seeing, but despite that, she finds herself smiling back, almost like it's involuntary, like it's just what she's supposed to do, because Oliver's smiling at her.

"I see I missed a lot," Diggle says, pulling them away from each other. He's grinning, sporting what she'd call a 'stupid idiot' grin, because it looks like it's about to break his face. "It's about damn time."

"What? No," Felicity says just as Oliver's hand covers her lower back again. She glances at him and then back to Diggle. "You…?"

"I'm not blind, Felicity," Diggle replies, shaking his head, his smile not dimming in the least.

"Well, neither am I," she says, her voice rising slightly. "But I didn't know."

"There's always been something between you two, since the night you dragged his bullet-ridden ass into the foundry." He shrugs. "I definitely didn't think it'd take seeing your future child to make this…" He waves the papers back and forth between them before smirking. "Happen."

"Nothing's… happening," Felicity stumbles. "Yet."

"Just give me a heads up when you two get a head start on that little one so I can make myself scarce."

Felicity's heart drops. It slams into the floor and splatters all over the place, quickly followed by every single organ in her body at the thought of doing that with Oliver. It's the logical assumption because hello, Ellie exists, but she just found out that Oliver has feelings for her, that he's thought about her like that, and that it wasn't just her. But they've barely done anything past kissing - amazing kissing, the kinds of kisses people write songs and poetry and possibly whole operas about - but not that.

Okay, yeah, they might've been on their way towards doing that very thing, and oh wow, how far would they have gone had Diggle not arrived? Something might have happened…

The thought of what that something might be makes her insides twist in a wicked dance of nerves and anticipation. Just kissing him was more than enough to solidify the few fantastical dreams she'd allowed herself. Imagine if… no, not imagining, they so didn't have time for imagining.

"John..." Oliver starts, shaking his head as Felicity says, "No, no, we were just… we talked, we just talked. We're just talking, now, it's not… we're not-"

Diggle grins. "I'm just playing, Felicity."

"Ha," Felicity says, her voice a little too high. "Just playing. Right."

"I'm sure you didn't come by just for waffles," Oliver says, the word 'waffles' encompassing far more than breakfast food as his hand slides up her back, his fingers grazing her neck. "Did something come up?" He pauses, and Felicity can feel the air in the room changing as he asks, "Is it Slade?"

That instantly sobers all of them.

Slade.

How could she forget for one second about Slade? It feels like an eternity has passed since yesterday afternoon, since Barry brought Ellie back, since Slade appeared and she ran with their daughter tucked in her arms, wanting nothing more than to stay and fight, to not abandon her friends, to not leave Oliver behind... So much has happened, so much has changed, and she'd almost let herself get caught up in the weird euphoria that has been her life for the last day. It's a little surprising, actually, how quickly she's already acclimated to having Ellie around, to having Oliver there like he had been last night… and this morning.

Surprising… alarming… shocking…

"Actually , yeah," Diggle says, nodding. "We did a quick search in the foundry last night, and found something missing. He took the skeleton key."

Oliver stiffens.

"Oh," Felicity whispers. "That's bad. That's very bad. He could get in anywhere he wants with that."

"I know," Diggle says.

Felicity doesn't have to look at Oliver to know he's already thinking about the fact that he was here when Slade was out there, doing who the hell knows what with the skeleton key. But what could he have done? They still don't know where Slade is or what he's doing, it would have been as fruitless as trying to find a microscopic needle in a haystack.

As if on cue, Oliver's hand slides away from her. She can feel him retreating, away from her, away from what they'd had just a few minutes ago.

No.

Felicity doesn't think twice. She turns, wrapping her arm around him just enough so her hand's resting on his back, keeping him right next to her. He glances down at her, his brow furrowed… but he relaxes, slightly, and it's enough.

Diggle clears his throat. "And we got a report this morning of an attack at a warehouse on the outskirts of Starling."

"What warehouse?" Felicity asks.

"It apparently used to be a holding facility for S.T.A.R. Labs," Diggle replies. "They terminated the lease last month."

"S.T.A.R. Labs?" Felicity repeats, glancing quickly at Oliver, not missing the way his face shutters again before looking to Diggle again. "Barry's at S.T.A.R. Labs. In Central City, I mean, not here, but… Did anyone get hurt?"

"No, but they're being very hush-hush about it, so short of going there ourselves, we don't know much. The SCPD hasn't released anything and nobody's talking about what exactly was taken."

"So something was taken?" Oliver asks.

"Yeah."

"I can call," Felicity says. "Or maybe go up there?" Although she really doesn't want to do that, she doesn't want to leave Ellie. "Well, call at least. See if anyone in Central City know what was taken."

Diggle nods, but it's not a happy nod. "It gets worse."

"Oh sure," Felicity says, waving her hand. "Of course, because things aren't bad enough."

Diggle indicates the papers in his hand. "Your facial recognition software went off this morning. It was Slade."

"Where?" Oliver asks, reaching for the papers. Diggle hands them over. They're pictures, screenshots, from the cheap traffic cameras found in the deteriorating parts of Starling City. They show the bare glimpse of the man's face, a black hole where his eyepatch is. It's not much, just enough to see it's him. He's in the back of a town car, turning down Franklin Avenue, heading out of the city. "Did anything else come up?"

Diggle shakes his head. "No, but a lot of the street cameras in the Glades aren't on the main city grid anymore, and I didn't know how to access them." He gives Felicity a pointed look. "Which is why I'm here."

"Right, that's my cue," Felicity says. "I have my tablet, I can do it right now."

"Good," Oliver says, taking a deep breath, his eyes on the pictures. "We need to know where he's going, what he's doing." He looks at Diggle. "Where's Sara?"

"I haven't talked to her since last night," Diggle replies.

"I'll call her," Oliver says before looking at Felicity. "We need to know everything about where he's going, and see if you can get the cameras from that warehouse, that had to be him."

"Okay," Felicity says, taking the pictures, scanning them. "This area is a little light on the actual working cameras, it's mostly old storage facilities and warehouses, but I'm sure something caught him."

"The next issue," Oliver says, "is what he took from S.T.A.R. Labs."

"My exact question," Diggle says, bringing up the bag to point at Oliver and Felicity catches a glimpse of what's inside.

"And of course you needed a change of clothes to ponder that question," Felicity says. "Are we turning this into a slumber party?"

Diggle gives her a placid smile. "No, I came here for Slade, and because…" and then he suddenly coughs, standing up a little taller, his voice rising as he finishes, "I got those spare clothes you asked for. Since you didn't have any... the last time I saw you."

"Uh…" Felicity frowns. "Okay, yeah, I guess that's…"

"Mrs. Queen," Diggle says, cutting her off as he nods respectfully at Queen matriarch over Felicity's shoulder. "It's nice to see you again."

The first thing Felicity thinks is: I didn't take a shower. Because she didn't, and she's still not wearing makeup and her hair still looks like rat's nest and she's pretty sure anyone with eyes can see she's been making out with Oliver and why can't she have been blessed with the kind of genes that allow her to wake up looking just like she did when she went to sleep?

The second thing she thinks is: Does she know about Slade?

The third thing is: Why can't anything just be easy?

"Mr. Diggle, what a nice surprise," Moira says, coming up behind them. It's because barely a day ago she was pretty sure Moira Queen despised her that Felicity jumps when the older woman's hand lands on her shoulder as she sidles up next to her. "I hear you're staying for breakfast."

"I was just stopping by to check on Mr. Queen, actually," Diggle replies, and when Felicity glances back at him, he sees his gaze dropping to the photos in her hand, like he's saying, 'Put them away, she can see.' "And to drop off some clothes for Ellie."

"Oh?" Moira asks, amusement coloring her tone.

When nobody says anything, Diggle nods again, an uncomfortable smile tugging at his lips as he plows forward. "Yes. And… I know she didn't have a spare set of clothes, because she was… she didn't have any… here."

Never in Felicity's life did she ever think she'd see the day where John Diggle was actually nervous, enough that he was taking after her speaking-wise. They didn't have a cover story planned, and even if they did, it hadn't included Diggle. It's kind of amazing watching him struggle to say something, because what exactly does one say to a woman who is now being called 'gramma' by a child from the future, a woman whom one assumes knows nothing about Oliver's extracurricular activities including sleeping with his EA?

When Diggle looks at her for a split second, she knows she's smiling because he glares at her.

She forces the smile off her face, but his glower doesn't lessen in the least.

"I just wanted to make sure she had everything she needed," Diggle continues haltingly. "And Mr. Queen, here. And… Ms. Smoak."

A tiny delighted snort escapes Felicity before she can stop it and Diggle's jaw tightens. She's about to step in and tell him it's alright, but Oliver beats her to it.

"John, she knows," he says.

"What?" Diggle asks, his eyes flying to Oliver. "She…?"

"She knows, about everything."

Felicity's eyebrows shoot up. What?

"Everything?" Diggle repeats.

"Everything," Oliver confirms.

"Like… you, and…" He points at Oliver and at Felicity, and then to the kitchen. "Everything?"

"Like that Ellie's from the future and that I'm the Arrow," he finishes bluntly.

Felicity's eyes widen almost comically, her lips forming a little 'o' as she looks at Moira, who is smiling patiently.

"Everything," Oliver finishes.

"Oh," Diggle says slowly, staring at Oliver… and then he looks at Moira, and then Felicity, before looking back at Oliver. "Man, you cannot keep a secret to save your damn life."

An amused chuckle falls from Moira's lips as Oliver frowns at him.

"I've known for a while, actually," Moira says. "And I had my suspicions long before that."

"I hope he didn't try the sports bottle thing on you," Felicity says, much to Oliver's chagrin, and as he rolls his eyes, Diggle chuckles. Moira raises her eyebrows in question. "He's not very good at cover stories."

"They weren't that bad," Oliver says.

"They weren't that good either," Felicity teases, poking him in the chest. He scowls at her, and she feels a mixture of amazement that she's teasing Oliver in the foyer of his gigantic family home with his mother and one of their best friends - like, this is their life now, what happened? - as well as a grim sense of foreboding because now isn't the time. She makes a little face and says, "Sorry."

Exasperation colors Oliver's face before he takes a breath. "Can we just…"

The front door swinging open cuts him off and before Felicity can turn to see who it is, Oliver and Diggle are already moving, like a morbid ballet they've done over and over. They don't even have to think about it - Oliver's arm slips around her waist and he tugs her behind him as Diggle steps in front of all of them, his shoulders stiff, his hand hovering over the holstered gun she knows he keeps at his back.

But it's the exact last person they need to guard themselves again.

Thea Queen breezes into the house.

It's like Ellie's a Queen family magnet. Felicity's now seen more of the Queen family in the space of the last few hours than she has in the entirety of the time Oliver Queen has been in her life.

Thea swings the door shut behind her with a heavy slam, barely giving any of them a glance as she heads towards the stairs.

She knows they're there though because her shoulders are stiff, her walk a little too hurried… or maybe it's all the new information that's been coming to light - like the fact that the devil himself is her biological father. Either way, Thea walks with a purpose that only a Queen can carry as they all freeze, not sure what to say or do, all thinking the same thing: Ellie.

Moira's the first to move.

"Thea," she says, surprise and happiness infusing her tone as she steps around Diggle, following her daughter, but the youngest Queen doesn't react past a dismissive glance over her shoulder. "Thea."

"I'm just here to pick up a few things I need at the club," Thea says, jogging up the stairs. Her eyes dance over the small gathering, not an ounce of recognition hitting her face when she sees Felicity or Diggle, before shooting Moira a chilly smile. "Don't want to break up the family meeting."

"No, Thea," Moira says, shaking her head, "that's not-"

But she's already gone.

Moira pauses at the base of the stairs, watching her go before she takes a deep breath, turning back to them.

"Felicity," she says, and Felicity doesn't have to hear the words to know what she's already going to say. Neither does Oliver, who stiffens next to her. "Would you like to get Ellie?"

"Uh," Felicity manages before Oliver cuts her off.

"Is now really the best time for that?" Oliver asks, his voice quiet but the hesitancy is loud and clear, although if it's hesitancy about Ellie seeing Thea right now and vice versa, or about questioning his mother on what is clearly a sore subject, she's not sure, but it's there.

"We should tell her," Moira says.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't-"

"Then-"

"I think Ellie would love to see her," Oliver interrupts again, holding his hand up for emphasis, "but… it's not just the fact that I… that we have a daughter now - or we do in the future, or..." He pauses, gathering himself and looks Moira straight in the eye. "It's that… we'd have to tell her everything.

"I'd have to tell her everything."

Felicity hears what he's saying: it has to be all or nothing.

The words hit Moira at a base level, and Felicity knows she and Oliver are thinking the same thing: another lie. It'd be something else on top of a whole mess of lies and omissions for Thea to push them further away than she already is. It absolutely would not help that it's another thing they both know, that they've both been lying to her again. The amount of lies and secrets interwoven in the Queen family's history is vast, life-changing, and this one would be no different.

Felicity wonders what happened in his conversation with Moira the night before for him to be thinking this way, but regardless, she finds she's glad for it. There's a stark difference between the man before her and the one who'd asked Roy to break up with Thea to protect her because he couldn't tell her the truth. Was it hearing his daughter talk about him being the Arrow that changed things? Or that they obviously still do their vigilante work in the future while having a family? That he lives a life without so many secrets shrouding his every move, and he flourishes? They flourish?

It's clear he doesn't want to lie to Thea any more than he already has, and a half-truth - just telling her about Ellie, about the shocking turn of events of their daughter from the future falling into their laps - won't do.

Oliver's struggle is evident and Felicity doesn't think twice about winding her arm around his waist, holding him a little closer. He doesn't react; he just stares at Moira, and maybe it's her imagination when she feels him leaning into her a little bit, but either way, he doesn't shrug her off or pull away. Felicity feels a wave of gratitude that he's letting her be there for him, especially in the face of having to tell someone else he'd been lying to for years now.

Would Thea understand why he did it, why he chose to tell no one, especially those closest to him, those he loved the most? Would she understand his reasoning?

Something tells her it won't go over well either way. And while Ellie would help smooth the waters, even her disarming grin wouldn't change the fact that there were more lies. It's obvious, judging by the way Ellie talks about Aunt Thea and Uncle Roy, that the Queen siblings eventually put their feelings aside, but that doesn't change the now.

Moira already knew about him - has known about him, apparently - but her cool acceptance of Oliver's nighttime activities would be nothing compared to Thea's reaction. And it was all because of timing. Hearing that her father was Malcolm Merlyn was bad enough, on top of finding out that Oliver knew and chose not to tell her… and now she'd hear that her brother is the Arrow? And meeting a niece who doesn't technically exist in this time period because she hasn't been born yet? Isn't that just the cherry on top of it all.

It's a lot to take in for anyone… and for Thea Queen, potentially more fault to rest at the feet of her family.

Felicity really can't blame Oliver for hesitating.

"Maybe it's time," Moira finally says. Oliver stiffens further. His mother steps towards him, the emotion in her eyes clear. "Ellie is more important than what's happening right now, between all of us. Thea's her aunt, Oliver." She shakes her head in amazement. "My daughter has a niece. And it would be good for her to at least know that… despite everything that's come to light recently, this is still her family. We are still her family. No matter what."

Oliver doesn't respond. He takes a slow breath and Felicity glances up at him. His face is tight with guilt, sadness, regret… and fear. The fear dominates every inch of him and Felicity holds him a little tighter. He looks down at her and she offers him a little smile, one he sort of returns as he grips her a little tighter, acknowledging it.

He looks back at Moira.

"Maybe. I want to... I want her to meet her," he says softly and Moira moves to respond. He cuts her off. "But meeting Ellie isn't going to get Thea to forgive you, mom. Or me."

"That's not what I'm doing," Moira says, her gaze never wavering. Felicity sees the mental wall sliding up, but not before she catches the flash of hurt culpability in her eyes.

That's exactly what she's doing.

Moira stares at Oliver with a quiet, strained desperation, and for the first time Felicity lets herself wonder what the older woman's gone through the last several years - the hurt and pain, the anger she's dealt with, the fear and the constant threat of the unknown, the dangers to her family, especially after the Gambit went down, the hard choices she had to make, choices she's looking back on with regret, especially because the consequences of those choices is losing her her family.

It's a little shocking that Felicity can look at Moira Queen now and actually feel kinship and understanding… empathy.

Introducing Thea to Ellie will undoubtedly keep the young woman in her life for the time being, especially because they don't know how long Ellie will be there. But it won't fix anything.

But Moira obviously doesn't care. She wants Thea to meet Ellie - she wants her family together, at whatever cost.

Felicity glances at Diggle, who's watching the exchange quietly, keeping his distance.

Oliver glances down at Felicity who looks up at him at the same time. She can see the question in his eyes and she nods, ready to back whatever decision he makes either way - she'll be here for him with whatever he chooses, for the moment when they tell Thea and for whatever happens afterwards.

He takes a deep breath and nods again, looking back at Moira. "We don't know how long Ellie will be here, anyway. Thea should meet her niece."

"Thank you, Oliver," Moira says, the meaning behind the simple words heavy in her tone. She smiles at him, recognizing what he's giving up.

Thea jogging back down the stairs interrupts the moment, her heeled boot echoing through the room.

Oliver stiffens again, his hold on her growing a little tighter and Felicity reciprocates.

Moira turns to the stairs just as her daughter steps off them. "Thea, there's somebody we'd like you to meet."

"I have to go actually," Thea replies, walking right past her, an overnight bag hanging from her fingers.

"Thea, please," Moira says.

The underlying plea in her mother's voice makes Thea pause right as she reaches the door. She turns, raising a dispassionate eyebrow at Moira, before her eyes sweep over the rest of them, stopping on Felicity.

It takes everything in Felicity's power to not step back at the intensity in the younger Queen's eyes, and if she didn't already know, that look alone tells her that she is Moira Queen's daughter.

A thin smile lights Thea's face as she looks at Moira again.

"Can't say I'm very interested in my brother's bedmates these days, mom," she says dryly.

Felicity's eyebrows fly up in surprise as Oliver holds her a little closer with a sharp, "Thea," just as Felicity manages a, "Oh, we're not…" as she points at him.

"It's really not any of my business actually," Thea interrupts, giving Felicity a smile that definitely does not reach her eyes. "It's not your fault my family is feeling the need to overshare since they lie about pretty mcuh everything else." She turns back to the door. "I have to go."

"Thea," Moira starts, but Thea's already opening the door, letting in a rush of chilly morning air, and then she's gone, the door shutting with a resounding thud, loud enough to make Felicity jump.

Silence fills the room.

Diggle's staring at the floor, looking as uncomfortable as Felicity feels, and when she glances at Oliver, his head is bowed, his lips pinched together tightly. The hurt is there, but she catches what looks like relief on his face, and she can only imagine the guilt he's feeling about having a little more time before he has to explain himself to his sister.

"You okay?" Felicity whispers, just for him.

His special Oliver-brand wall snaps into place and he pushes a smile to his lips with a nod. "Yeah."

He's lying, they both know it, but he doesn't let her call him on it. Instead, he looks at his mother.

Moira's staring at the door, her back stiff, and almost like everyone's taking their cue from her, nobody moves. For a second, the only sounds that can be heard are the distinct clatter of dishes in the kitchen and the barely audible murmurs between Ellie and Raisa.

"Mom," Oliver starts, releasing Felicity, stepping towards Moira, to comfort her - they clearly mended more than a few bridges the night before.

"It's fine, Oliver," Moira says, turning with a smile on her lips, a superficial one that looks more like muscle memory than anything, highlighting that Thea's dismissal hurt more than she's willing to let on. The older woman looks at Diggle. "You'll be staying then, Mr. Diggle?" She waves to the kitchen. "The waffles are ready, and I'm sure Ellie's made you a special one with extra strawberries."

"Thank you," Diggle replied, giving her a warm smile. "I'd love to stay, Mrs. Queen."

"Please," she replies. "Call me Moira."

Diggle doesn't reply right away and Felicity can't blame him - she's nowhere near being able to voluntarily call her Moira despite her insistence, and she can't imagine he's any closer than she is.

"I'm going to call Sara," Oliver says. "Get her status."

Felicity looks at him, but he's not looking at her. It's clear from his tone that the wall he'd let down over the last several hours is definitely back in place. The changes she saw last night and this morning are hidden behind a shuttered expression again. Thea's abrupt brushoff on top of the new information about Slade's activities the night before have pushed him back to business as usual, back to the Oliver he was before Ellie appeared, and he doesn't want to waste another second.

"I'll go with you," Felicity says.

She's not sure who's more surprised when she speaks, her or Oliver.

"No," he replies, shaking his head, his hand grazing her shoulder; it doesn't escape her attention that it's almost perfunctory now. "Go eat, I'll be right back." Oliver moves to step around her but she grabs his arm, stopping him. "Felicity…"

"We'll be there in a minute," Felicity says, smiling at Moira and Diggle.

"Alright," Moira says with a smile, another one that doesn't quite reach her eyes, before she turns to Diggle. "Shall we?"

"Lead the way," Diggle says, stepping forward to follow.

He glances at Felicity, his eyes dropping to the photos she's still holding, and she's already saying, "I'm on it."

Diggle gives her a quick nod, his eyes darting to Oliver for a split second, before he disappears behind Moira.

And then it's just them.

"Felicity, I won't be long. Go eat."

"Twenty minutes ago I found you in a pillow fort giggling with our daughter," Felicity says, cutting him off, and he blinks in surprise, a tender look crossing his face before it disappears again. "Where'd that guy go?"

Oliver closes his eyes.

"Things with Thea aren't going to be fixed overnight, Oliver," she says slowly, and he winces, frowning. "And it's not your fault what happened with Slade." His eyes snap open, and the second they meet hers, she says, "It's not. We had no clues, nothing to go on last night, it would've been fruitless, and you wouldn't have had that time with Ellie."

"I know," he concedes quietly, but Felicity can hear the hardness lining the words. "That doesn't change the fact that people could have gotten hurt-"

"But they didn't."

"That we know of," Oliver retorts sharply. Felicity pauses and he lets out an agitated sigh, scrubbing his eyes. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

"It's not okay," he replies. He takes a deep breath, almost like he's struggling for what to say. After a moment, he meets her gaze. "I know you're trying to help, and you are. I just… can't stop thinking about the… the what-if's."

"Oliver Queen in a nutshell," Felicity replies, keeping her voice light.

Oliver huffs out a quiet chuckle followed by a smile, one that slowly becomes more real as the seconds pass.

He stares at her, and she sees the walls starting to crumble again, like he's making an active choice to open up to her. It takes her breath away. His eyes drop down to her lips when they part and she can tell he's remembering what they were doing just a few minutes ago - it's weird to think it was just a few minutes ago, and even weirder to think that so much has happened in less than day… but it's not just that he's remembering, it's that he's open to it, that he's letting himself be open to it, keeping himself open…

Whoa.

This was going to take a little getting used to.

Oliver cocks his head slightly and grabs her hand, lacing their fingers together. "C'mere."

"What…?" He pulls her closer and she smiles, shaking her head. "Talk about not the time."

"If there's one thing this entire situation is making me realize," Oliver says, his voice subdued as he pulls her into his arms, "is that we have to make the time."

Her heart skips a beat and before she can respond, Oliver kisses her.

It's nothing like their last few kisses, not nearly touching on the scorching passion that'd been building between them at an alarming rate upstairs, but it's just as intense, just as powerful, and it sends a heady rush of need and an emotion she isn't ready to name searing through her as she leans into him, kissing him back.

"Mm," she whispers, her lips grazing his. "This is nice."

Oliver smiles, his nose brushing against hers. "It is."

Felicity sighs, kissing him again, moving to wrap her arms around him before remembering the pictures in her hand.

When she sighs again, it's heavier. "I need to get my tablet."

The bleak reminder of what's happening around them makes Oliver's face fall but he recovers just as quickly.

"Yeah," he says, nodding. "I'll go call Sara, and then…"

A shout suddenly shatters the moment, one that sounds alarmingly like Moira, quickly followed by the ringing severity of a gunshot.

Oh god, no.

Oliver and Felicity are already moving.

He tries to push her back as he runs past her but she just grabs his hand, both of them darting towards the kitchen. Fear-spiked adrenaline rushes through her so hard and fast it leaves her head spinning with nothing but the rapid racing of her heart - no, no, please, no - as they both slam into the kitchen at the same time.

Felicity's barely aware of Diggle's unconscious body on the floor, or the sight of Moira struggling to stand in the background, gripping the counter, blood coating half her face from a nasty gash, and what looks like Raisa's arm where she's on the ground behind the kitchen island…

In a split second, she takes it all in, she sees that... but she doesn't care.

Because Slade's standing in the middle of the kitchen…

And her daughter's in his arms.

Chapter Text

"Daddy," Ellie whimpers, and it takes everything inside Oliver to stay right where he is… especially as Slade lets out a, "Shh," and starts rocking his daughter, his hand patting her little leg in a mockingly soothing motion.

The most vicious swell of violence he's ever felt in his life rips through him. It's so primal, so etched into his sense of being that it blurs his vision and sends a surge of furious protectiveness through his veins like he's never experienced before.

She's so tiny, so miniscule in his arms; her cheeks are splotchy with fear, her eyes wet with unshed tears. Her little arms are curled into her chest, her back stiff. She knows this is a bad man, but she doesn't know what to do.

His insides revolt, urging him to do something, but he doesn't move, he can't, because he doesn't know what Slade will do. And he's well aware of what the other man could do.

Every single instinct is screaming at him to get Ellie away from Slade, but he doesn't know how. One wrong move and he could lose everything, a life he barely let himself dream about much less actually believe he could have.

That thought alone almost has him moving again, but he stays right where he is.

Never in his life has he had so much to lose.

It's terrifying.

"Daddy," Slade repeats, a cold grin on his face. "And here I thought I knew everything about you, Oliver." His eyes slide over to Felicity, and another streak of ice-cold terror has him trembling as Slade takes her in. "I'm learning so many interesting things."

How? How did he know where to find them?

Felicity's squeezing his hand so hard that he's surprised his bones aren't breaking, or that he's not snapping hers with the severity of his answering grip. He should let her go, he knows this, get all of Slade's attention on him, but the thought of doing that makes him freeze even more, almost like letting go of her will be the last thing they'll ever do.

"Ellie, sweetie, look at me," Felicity says in a quiet tone that shakes with fear and determination. Ellie's eyes switch to Felicity and the quiet terror on his daughter's face is a knife slicing through his chest. "You're being such a big, brave girl. It's going to be okay. Do you understand? Just keep looking at me. Don't look at him, just at me."

The little girl's watery blue eyes widen at her mother's words and she nods the little bit that Slade's grip allows her as her gaze locks with Felicity's. The complete and total trust shining through her obvious fear is another knife to his chest.

Ellie's so brave, so incredibly brave, and she believes every word out of her mother's mouth.

It's not really a promise Felicity can keep, but Oliver knows exactly what she's doing: she wants to grant their daughter as much peace and security as she can, because she's just as panicked and uncertain as he is. But even if Slade snaps their three-year-old's neck in front of them, she wants it to happen while Ellie stares back at her with the knowledge that everything's going to be okay, no matter what.

Oliver's going to be sick. Bile rises up in the back of his throat, chalky with a terror he's never felt before, but he pushes it back down, forcing himself to let go of Felicity's hand. If she can be brave for Ellie, he surely can too.

"She's three years old, Slade," Oliver says, his voice low and measured despite the frenzy inside - It's the only thought in his mind at the moment other than "don't" and "please, god, let this be a nightmare" and "take me instead."

"Yes, she is," Slade asks with a sickening amount of amusement in his voice as he looks down at her, one of his hands moving to the back of Ellie's neck.

Horror twists Oliver's insides - he's not Deathstroke here, he's Slade Wilson, the same unassuming businessman who contributed to Moira Queen's campaign and toured the Queen Manor… his hand is bare, and so large, engulfing her throat…

A tiny whimper slips out, and Oliver inhales sharply, gritting his teeth to keep himself still. He can see her lips are trembling before she pinches her mouth in a thin, white line.

"Darling little thing," Slade continues. "Not sure if she has your eyes or her mother's. But then again…" He looks back to Oliver, who meets his gaze head-on. "My vision isn't quite what it used to be."

He chuckles darkly, his grip on her little neck tightening. Ellie lets out another frightened noise that Felicity immediately answers with a soft hushing sound and it takes every single ounce of willpower Oliver has to keep his focus locked on Slade instead of his daughter.

This is how he helps her, keeping Slade's attention on him.

"You're threatening a toddler, Slade," Oliver points out. "An innocent child. What would Shado think about that?"

"You don't get to talk to me about Shado!" Slade roars, his eye widening with a manic rage that translates into Ellie, who starts full-on sobbing, her eyes never leaving Felicity.

"Oliver," Felicity says, her voice shaking with nervous fear, but he can't even spare her a glance.

"No," Oliver counters, shaking his head head slowly. He narrows his eyes at Slade, glaring at him as he says, "You don't get to talk to me about Shado." He tries to ignore the little breath that Felicity sucks down in wild anticipation as fury floods the other man's face, echoing the wild rush of adrenaline in Oliver's system as he continues, "She didn't choose you, Slade, and you weren't the one who had to watch her executed right in front of you."

He's deadly calm, the words hanging heavily in the air, the words that have been a living thing between him and Slade for years. Well, no more.

Oliver grits his teeth.

"So please," he says darkly, "tell me how it is that you have the right to break into my home and threaten my daughter's life because I somehow wronged you."

"You chose Sara over her," Slade accuses, letting go of Ellie's neck to point in his direction, his voice rising. "You took everything from me. I loved her and you threw her away like she was nothing." He points at his chest, the sudden movement making Ellie whimper. "Well, she wasn't nothing to me!"

"I chose her and Sara over myself!" Oliver snaps. "You weren't there. Ivo told me to choose and I charged the gun instead. I never picked Sara over Shado, I could never make that choice. I tried to give up my life for both of them, but Ivo wouldn't let me! I wanted it to be me, I didn't want anyone else to die because of me."

A strangled noise of pain at his words draws Oliver's gaze ever-so-briefly to his mother who stands a few paces behind Slade, still holding the counter for support. He wouldn't have understood before - he couldn't have - how much his willingness to sacrifice his own life would affect his mother. He gets it now, amazingly. The thought of anything happening to Ellie… he thinks he might burn the world to the ground to keep that from happening.

He thinks he wouldn't even regret it.

"I don't believe you," Slade tells him, his voice harsh, rooted in self-righteous rage. "You'd say anything right now to save your little whelp. But you forget, I know you, kid. You aren't that selfless."

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Felicity bites out in a near-growl that has an unexpected surge of pride and affection washing through Oliver.

"You…" Slade says, turning his gaze towards her, cocking his head with disdain. "You I almost feel sorry for. You got sucked in by a pretty face like so many before you." His voice hardens with animus. "But he brings death everywhere he goes, and it won't be long before it touches you." He gives her a jagged smile that has ice settling in the pit of Oliver's stomach. "And your precious little Ellie."

There's no swaying him… there never was.

Oliver knows this, has known it, since well before Ellie even came into their lives. He wonders if his one-time friend didn't die after all, if the mirakuru resurrected only vengeance and a twisted sense of logic purely driven by hate. Even if they could get the cure, could use it on him, the man he once knew is gone. There's nothing left of the one-time companion who saved his life countless times, who he called a friend, a brother…

That man died on the Amazo just as surely as Shado died by Ivo's gun.

"He's damned you, Felicity," Slade continues, drawing her name out, making it sound like it's covered in acid. Oliver feels her stiffening with her own rage next to him. "And he damned your child before she was even born."

The words are cutting, and Oliver feels them deep in his bones.

It's exactly what Slade wants. He wants to throw him off his game, to play on the insecurities he confided in him on the island, and for a split second, it works. Oliver feels the gnawing pit of doubt and fear appear in his chest, the quiet voice whispering, "What if…", the worry that maybe he is the danger, something both Felicity and Ellie should be running from…

But in the next instant, it's gone.

Oliver isn't sure how he knows, but he does: he hasn't damned them, and he won't. If anything, everything since last night has shown him that embracing that light instead of running from it ensures their safety more than anything in the entire world. Maybe it's the strength he feels radiating off Felicity, or waking up and seeing his daughter's joyful smile, or hearing her happy giggles this morning, he's not sure, but whatever it is convinces him.

He doesn't damn them.

The instant he recognizes it, his chest loosens, something clicking into place deep inside him.

"I'm pretty sure the only one who's damned here is you," Felicity says, her fortitude ringing through the kitchen, grounding him. "And that has nothing to do with Oliver."

Slade's attention is on her. As much as that fact brings a fresh surge of protectiveness rushing through Oliver's blood, he's also aware enough to recognize it for the opportunity it is. It's not much - Slade is undoubtedly highly aware of Oliver's every move - but it's something. It's an edge, a split second's advantage that Oliver can't let go to waste, not with Ellie in his grip, her life hanging in the balance.

Slade smirks. "I thought Oliver had a thing for stronger women." He narrows his eyes, like he's seeing Felicity in a new light. "I can see the appeal now."

Oliver doesn't have to beat Slade, he just has to save Ellie, wrench her from his iron grip.

It seems far more doable than defeating the mirakuru-powered madman unarmed.

At least he hopes it is.

Oliver charges, a violent, adrenaline-fueled rush that barrels into Slade full force, a vicious shout falling from his throat. It's enough to send him stumbling back two steps and - more importantly - it's enough to make him drop Ellie.

But that's the extent of his impact.

Ellie shrieks as she drops, landing with a thud and a wail that's an awful mixture of fear and pain from the impact. Felicity scrambles forward toward the girl with outstretched arms, scooping her up and scurrying backwards as fast as she can, out of Slade's immediate reach. And Slade… Slade laughs as Oliver throws everything he has into fighting against the beast of a man.

Oliver has never hit so hard in his life. He has never been so determined, so driven. Never.

But it's nowhere near enough.

The mirakuru that simultaneously powers and poisons Slade gives him a kind of power that Oliver can never hope to match, and soon it's too much. His desperation to save his family is no match for the dangerous rage in the other man's every move as Slade's fist lands on his jaw with an audible crack, wrenching Oliver's head to the side with so much force it feels like his muscles are tearing.

"Shado didn't get to have a family, you took that away from her!" he growls, his fists colliding in a bruising series of punches to his kidneys and ribs. "You don't get to have one either."

The hits come fast and hard, barely giving Oliver a chance to breathe much less react, but his words slice through him like a serrated blade. He tries to say, "Run," to Felicity, but Slade's already moving, landing a bone-crunching kick to his knee…

And then Slade's iron grip wraps around his neck.

"Oliver!"

Felicity's panicked voice pierces the air as Slade lifts him off the ground, fingers wrapped in a deadly hold around his windpipe, slowly crushing it, forcing the air out of him.

Oliver wants to tell her to run, to take Ellie and go while they can, but his voice is too strangled to work. Air slips down his throat like it's being sucked down through a straw and it's not enough; his lungs scream for more, his voicebox nearly collapsing under Slade's violent grip.

He doesn't know what will happen if Slade kills him... when Slade kills him.

Will Ellie continue on, an anomaly in the timeline, a girl with a father who never was? Or will she fade away like she never existed in the first place?

That hurts more than anything Slade could ever do to him, and he desperately hopes for the former. For Felicity's sake. For Ellie's own sake. But even if she disappears like a mirage, too perfect to be real, he won't regret this. He won't regret giving up his own life to spare her the pain of a death at Slade Wilson's hands.

It will be worth it.

Felicity isn't in his field of vision, but he doesn't have to see her to know she's moving about, looking for a weapon, an edge, anything to help save him. She's a fighter, this woman who should have one day been his wife. Sometimes with words or with strings of code. She never stops, never gives in. She has the fiercest, most loyal heart he's ever known, and while she's not trained to fight physically, she will, because she thinks she needs to, because it's what's right. And, god, if he'd ever thought he'd be able to shrug off his feelings for her as some kind of a crush, it was vibrantly clear now how impossible that was always going to be.

He loves her.

Fiercely, completely, because this is who she is - a woman with a sense of justice that outstrips even his own, a woman who can make him smile at the thought of her even as he's being choked to the brink of death. She's his match, and he knows it. He only wishes that he'd had the time to tell her that, that he'd had the time to show her.

If there's one thing he'll regret, it's that.

"I'm going to kill you, Oliver," Slade tells him with a chilling calm that rattles Oliver to his bones. "And they're going to watch you die. And then I'm going to kill them. Because I can. Because they'll die knowing that you failed them, that you weren't half the man they thought you were."

No.

Oliver's lungs burn and his eyes water as he grapples helplessly against Slade's tightening hands. Somewhere in the background he thinks he hears Ellie sobbing. He can hear Felicity shouting something, but it's all quickly fading, his strangled bids for air and the rush of his own blood slipping to the forefront.

He digs his fingernails into Slade's hands, drawing blood that coats his own fingers, but it doesn't even make the man flinch. Oliver tries to push off Slade's abdomen with his feet, tries to wrench himself away, but he's like a ragdoll; all his efforts are futile.

Slade's right, Oliver realizes with sudden, tremendous terror. This is how he dies… staring into the eyes of a madman he once called a friend. Maybe it was always going to end this way. He'd long ago accepted that his death would be a brutal one, but lately - in the last day, anyhow - he'd thought maybe

But it doesn't matter. He's going to die. Here. Now. And worse than that, so is his family…

And there's nothing he can do about it.

Oliver opens his mouth in a silent scream, desperation flooding him as he fights even harder with the little energy he has left.

If he can just tell them to run, tell Felicity to go, to get out, get away...

But with every second that passes, more black spots dance in his vision and Felicity and Ellie slowly fall further and further away until he's in another place entirely… until it's just him and Slade. Nothing else exists. Not his mother's kitchen or his daughter's tears or Felicity's screams. They might be on Lian Yu or somewhere in the Glades or anywhere at all.

It doesn't really matter because the world around them melts away and all he can see is Slade's one eye staring at him with cruel, firm intent…

For a split second, even that fades, melting into darkness, a sea of nothingness… until he sees something. It's so quick, almost too quick, but there's enough for him to catch the glint of sunlight, the warmth of a summer breeze drifting over his skin… he tastes salt in the air, hears the crash of waves somewhere close… and laughter.

Happiness.

Felicity's face appears with a wide, beautiful grin… and then Ellie's adorable giggles where she's chasing seagulls… and a little boy.

And just as quickly as he sees it, it's gone…

… because he's falling.

Reality slams back into him as he lands on something cold and hard. Fresh air floods his lungs, making him cough as a roar of pain swamps his ears…

Slade's pain.

It's Slade, Oliver registers belatedly, blinking his watery eyes until his vision clears enough to see - he's on the floor, fighting to breathe and when he looks up, he sees the hilt of a kitchen knife buried in Slade's only remaining eye.

For an ugly second, the only thing Oliver hears is Slade's anguished, rage-filled screams slicing through the air as he lurches away from him, his arms swinging out.

It doesn't make sense. Oliver can't wrap his mind around it, that he's alive... that his family might live

Oliver stumbles to his feet, blinking the white pinpricks out of his vision, expecting to see Felicity, but it's not her and he could not be more surprised in this moment if he tried.

"You stay the hell away from my family, you son of a bitch," Moira Queen demands, fierce and aloof like she hadn't just slammed a knife through a man's eye.

"Mom?" Oliver asks in bewilderment, his voice bruised and thin.

"Daddy! I want my daddy!" Ellie sobs behind them and Oliver's turning to them before he can stop himself. "Momma, let me go!"

"Ellie, no," Oliver rasps, ignoring the tearing in his vocal cords, lifting a hand to ward them off as Slade's shaking hand finds the knife hilt. Blinded or not, Slade Wilson is definitely still a threat. "Felicity, get her out of here!"

He knows she'd insist on being at his side - it's one of the things he loves the most about her - but Ellie's safety is the only thing that matters. He has no doubt they're both on the same page about that, a notion reinforced by the swift, soft padding of Felicity's bare feet against the wood floor and Ellie's increasingly distant cries for him.

"I'm going to kill you," Slade growls, ripping the knife from his eye socket, leaving behind a gorey hole in his face. "And I'm going to enjoy it." His head turns where Felicity's taken off. His grin is garish, his teeth coated in the blood leaking down his face. "And then it's their turn."

The promise in his voice is chilling, and it takes everything in Oliver to not throw himself at the madman, but he stops himself. They'd fought enough in the dark on Lian Yu that he is more than aware that Slade doesn't need to see to win in combat. His senses are well-honed, and the mirakuru only enhances them, but he is unfamiliar territory to him and the pain has to be taking off some of the edge he'd normally have.

Regardless, there's no time to waste and Slade is far from defeated.

Quietly and quickly, razor-sharp fear and adrenaline smothering his pain, Oliver slips around Slade and grabs his mother's arm to pull her behind him.

Slade lunges at them - aimless, broad, powerful strokes that would be deadly if he landed one. Taking Slade out means executing what would be lethal force on anyone else and Oliver knows that, but he can't do that barehanded - if he lets himself think too much about it, he's barely able to stand past the stabbing pain in his knee and the stinging ache in the delicate tissue of his throat. He looks around the room, but he doesn't see much in the way of weapons...

Until he spies Digg's unmoving form near the end of the island.

Instinct takes over as he ducks Slade's next swing, pushing him back in one move before dragging his mother by the arm over toward Digg.

"Oliver, what..." she starts, looking slightly more frazzled than he'd registered at first - her hands are shaking, her hair lacking its usual impeccable styling, and there's blood staining her fingers, but he doesn't let himself think about that for the moment. His mother has had plenty of blood on her hands before. This time, at least, it's warranted.

He makes a quiet hushing noise to cut her off, but it's too late. She's drawn Slade's attention and the man lets out a savage roar as he shifts his attention towards them, moving to attack.

Moira lets out a shaky noise in alarm. She grabs Oliver's arm in a death grip as she whispers, "Oliver…" but he can't do anything, not yet. Oliver looks for the sidearm that Digg always carries on him, pushing his unconscious friend's body out of the way…

There.

Slade is barreling toward Moira when Oliver turns, gun in hand, and empties the entire clip into his nemesis.

The shots are loud, and they echo the sound of the bullets ripping into his body as he stutters to a stop, a surprised look crossing his sightless face. The silence that follows is deafening, and for a long second, there's nothing but the wet sound of Slade moving his jaw, trying to speak, but all that comes out is a rivulet of blood.

It slides down his chin, dripping to the floor...

And then he falls.

It suddenly hits him how lucky they are that he wasn't wearing his armor. He'd gotten cocky, assumed taking Oliver at home where his family was in the most danger would be enough, that it'd be easy… and maybe it would have been, if it'd just been Oliver, or just Ellie and Felicity…

The ghost of the gunshots ring in his ears as he stares at Slade's body.

He's not breathing, he's not moving…

It's done.

They're safe.

His family is safe.

"Oh thank god," Moira breathes, grabbing Oliver's arm, turning him to face her. She rests a hand on Oliver's cheek to gain his attention. "Oliver, are you-"

"I'm fine, I'm fine." He eyes the large gash on her forehead. It's already stopped bleeding, but it's left a thick stream of blood caked in her hair and across her face. He winces as he reaches for her. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, don't worry about me," Moira says dismissively, her eyes on his throat. "I wasn't the one who almost died."

"I'm okay," Oliver assures her, his voice hoarse and uneven. "Thanks to you."

"I'm your mother, Oliver," she reminds him, affection heavy in her voice. "I'd do anything to protect you."

He believes her, with every ounce of his being. Oliver grins, an incredulous smile of amazement that she can still somehow make him feel like he's ten years old, and awe at the strength she wields.

Moira returns it, all maternal tenderness before she takes a deep breath, turning back to Slade. He follows her gaze.

"Now," she says, her tone regaining the cool manner that's usually reserved for a boardroom. "I'll make a call, to have this… problem cleaned up." She pats his arm. "You go check on Ellie and Felicity."

It's the only thing he wants to do - what he needs to do. He can still hear Ellie's cries for him, Felicity's frantic whispers as she tries to calm their daughter… but they aren't out of the clear yet.

"He's not dead," he informs her before the rest of her words register. Oliver starts, turning abruptly to stare at her. "You have someone who can take care of a body?"

She completely brushes off his concern with a, "Never mind that," before asking, "What do you mean he's not dead?" She laughs, and the sound comes out uncharacteristically nervous. "Oliver, no one could survive that."

"Yeah, well," Oliver says, "there's more to him than meets the eye."

He leans down to check Digg's pulse, breathing a sigh of relief when he finds it, strong and steady. As Moira asks, "Meaning what exactly?" his eye catches Raisa's arm on the other side of the kitchen island.

"Raisa," he breathes, instantly moving to check on her. Moira follows with a shocked, "Oh," as Oliver shifts her just enough to see if she's breathing… she is, and her pulse is present. Oliver breathes a sigh of relief.

"She's alright?" Moira inquires.

Oliver nods, unable to ignore the fact that Ellie and Felicity are somewhere in the mansion. The urge to find them is becoming almost unbearable, and seeing Raisa and Digg on the floor isn't helping a damn bit.

"Yeah," he replies, focusing on assessing the damage. "I think he just knocked her out. Maybe broke her arm." He moves back towards Diggle. "And don't worry about Slade, I know someone who will be more than happy to take him off our hands."

"Oliver… darling…" Moira starts hesitantly, clearly trying to figure out how best to word what she's going to say next. "You're a wonderful man and clearly committed to doing the right thing. I respect that and I love you for it… but we really do need to kill him."

He blinks up at her from Digg's side.

"It's not cruelty," Moira assures him, misreading his look. "It's practicality. That man is going to want you and your daughter dead by his hand as long as he breathes. We need to end him. For good. For Ellie's sake."

There is no doubt at all that his mother is twisted in her logic, but she's also not exactly wrong. Oliver decides very quickly not to think too hard about what that says about him. Instead, he focuses on the impossibility of her suggestion.

"I've tried," Oliver tells her. "There's this… let's call it a drug. It keeps him alive, no matter what injury he sustains." He pauses, his eyes sliding to Slade. "I don't know how to kill him, not without reversing its effects."

"Then how do we do that?" Moira asks.

"I'm not sure yet," Oliver answers. "But I think I might have some friends who can help. First, though… we need to contain him."

With that, he pulls Digg's phone out of his pocket and punches a few buttons, never taking his eyes off of Slade's unmoving form. The phone rings twice before the line connects and a familiar voice greets him.

"Johnny, I've got a meeting in five minutes," Lyla says, her tone hurried. "What's up?"

"Sorry, Lyla," he replies. "It's Oliver."

The sudden lack of noise from her end of the line is incredibly telling. She's stopped walking, stopped breathing for a moment. Oliver hadn't been aware that Digg was still seeing his ex-wife, but he'd have known based on her reaction to his unexpected call even if Ellie hadn't tipped them off.

"How bad?" Lyla asks, businesslike and focused.

"He's okay. Well, he will be okay," Oliver clarifies. "He's unconscious at the moment, but that's not why I'm calling…"

"Johnny's unconscious and there's another reason you're calling me?"

He can perfectly imagine the way her well-manicured eyebrows are undoubtedly raising in disbelief, and he knows he's stretching her patience.

"What has John told you about Slade Wilson?" Oliver questions.

"... Enough to know he should be a higher priority than Waller's making him," Lyla answers after a moment. "Why?"

"Think you could contain him?" Oliver asks.

Lyla's reply is immediate. "Do you have him?"

"If he were a normal person, he'd be dead on my mother's kitchen floor at the moment," Oliver tells her. "Instead, he's got a full clip in his chest and lost his other eye. He's down for the count, but he's still breathing."

"I'll be there in ten minutes," Lyla says, hanging up the phone before Oliver has a chance to respond.

Oliver sighs, half in relief and half out of anxiety.

He has no idea how long they've got until Slade wakes up. He has to stay here. But, god does he want to go find Felicity and Ellie. With the immediate danger out of the way, he craves their presence, the solid reassurance that they're fine. It itches under his skin and makes his muscles twitch.

"Good news?" Moira asks, pulling him back.

"Yeah," Oliver agrees, standing back up, setting the phone on the counter. "Lyla… Digg's Lyla. She's got the resources to keep Slade under lock and key. She's on her way."

"And how precisely will she do that?" Moira asks, looking anything but convinced. "Oliver, I'm certain she has the best of intentions, but if Slade Wilson can survive everything he's just endured, I can't imagine how anyone would be able to keep him imprisoned."

"Not every government agency has a name you'd recognize, mom," Oliver tells her with a heavy look. "Believe me, Lyla and her organization can handle this."

"You had better hope you're right," Moira replies gravely. "Because everything you have ever cared about rides on that man never getting free."

"Do you have a better idea?" Oliver asks her, watching her expectantly. "Because this is all I have."

Moira would look entirely composed and demure if there weren't blood drying beneath her nails. But Oliver sees it. He knows better.

"Surely there are some injuries no one could heal from," she suggests. "Regardless of whatever influences they're under."

"What exactly are you proposing?" Oliver asks, very much disliking the turn their conversation has taken, remembering vividly her comment about calling someone to clean up their 'problem.' The incredulity of that statement is fading away, leaving room for the reality of it: his mother has someone on speed dial who makes bodies disappear.

The implications of that are unsettling.

"Simply that," Moira replies, "if perhaps parts of him were… buried separately, there would be no way for him to survive."

Oliver blinks.

"Mom…" He closes his eyes, shaking his head. "This is by far the strangest conversation I've ever had. And that's taking into account that yesterday I told you I have a daughter who's time travelled from the future."

"Now isn't the time to be squeamish," Moira chastises, nonchalantly brushing dust off of his shoulder and he raises his eyebrows. Squeamish? "And it's not the time to trust other people to take care of our problems for us. Why don't you leave this to me. Call this… Lyla back, tell her you don't need her help, then go upstairs to your family. Leave Mr. Wilson in my hands."

She's serious. She's one hundred percent serious.

He's too tired to say anything but, "No, mom. I'm not going to go upstairs while you chop Slade into pieces, but thank you for offering."

"Oliver..." she begins, but is cut off by a groan.

Luckily for all of them, it's Diggle waking up and not the other unconscious man on the kitchen floor.

"Careful, John. Take it slow," Oliver says as his friend tries to sit up and nearly falls back down.

"Oh man," Diggle says, blinking into awareness. He winces, his hand flying to the back of his head. "What the hell happened?"

"Slade happened," Oliver replies.

The words startle Diggle enough that he's fully present in an instant. His eyes fly around the room, his shoulders stiff and ready for anything as he asks, "What happened? Is Ellie…?"

Just hearing his daughter's name makes Oliver's chest ache and he nods quickly. "She's okay, she's okay. Everything's okay now. Everybody's okay. Well…" He nods towards the bloodied body. "Except for Slade."

"Damn, Oliver," Diggle breaths as he takes in Slade's prone form. "Good work. It's about time we took him down." He grips Oliver's hand, letting his friend pull him to his feet. "We were due a win."

"Actually…" Oliver says, glancing at Moira. "My mother beat him."

Oliver's pretty sure that Diggle finds it more likely he's suffering from a concussion than that he heard him correctly, based on the way he freezes and his eyes dart between Oliver and Moira.

"That's…" Diggle starts, looking like he has no clue how to finish any semblance of a thought, "... very impressive, Mrs. Queen. How exactly did you manage that?"

"Everyone has their vulnerabilities, Mr. Diggle," she says, affecting her typical Queen Family Matriarch air. "Sometimes all you have to do is know precisely where to strike."

Diggle nods, blinking as he tries to wrap his head around that before raising both eyebrows and looking toward Oliver.

"Man, don't take this the wrong way, but your mom is terrifying. Promise me never to introduce her to Waller."

And wow, does that thought short-circuit Oliver's brain for a moment.

"Speaking of," he says, "Lyla's on her way to pick him up."

Diggle's eyes narrow warily. "Is ARGUS really the best place for him?"

"Thank you, Mr. Diggle," Moira says with a pointed look at Oliver.

"Mom…" Oliver says, raising a hand in her direction. "Don't start."

"You really want him in Waller's hands?" Diggle questions, giving Oliver a knowing glance. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable with her holding the leash of a madman with superhuman powers, and it's not even my family he's targeting."

"I want him dead," Oliver says baldly. "If he's going to come after Ellie… if she's going to have to live with the threat of him hanging over her head her whole life…" He clenches his jaw, the very idea of it sending a surge of acid clawing up his throat. "I want him dead, John. But first… we need to find a cure for the mirakuru. He's not going to die otherwise."

"Yeah," Diggle breathes, his eyes switching back to Slade.

Oliver takes a deep breath. "And maybe…"

Diggle sighs, knowing exactly where he's going.

"Maybe if this crap is out of his system he'll go back to the way he was before," he says. "Maybe he won't be crazy. Maybe he won't hate you."

Oliver stares at Diggle, imploring him to understand where he's coming from. "I owe it to the friend I knew to try."

Diggle might get it, but his mother surely won't.

"Oliver," she sighs. "Your sentimentality is utterly mind-boggling."

He's saved from having to defend his position further by the distinctive sound of a helicopter settling down on their back lawn. Lyla. It's ARGUS, and for the first time since Oliver entered the kitchen to find Ellie in Slade's arms, he exhales in genuine relief.

They're safe.

Lyla's barely through the door to the kitchen before Oliver's focus redirects to the two women upstairs.

"Glad to see you're awake," Lyla says to Digg, eyes flickering over his form in equal parts appraisement and appreciation.

"Missed too much of the fight as it was," Diggle tells her. "I sure as hell wasn't gonna miss him being locked up for good."

Lyla reads between the lines like it's something she trained to do. And, considering her employer, maybe she is.

"I've got this, Johnny," she assures him. "We're going to stick him somewhere he'll never see the light of day again. I promise you that."

"Good," Diggle says. "I'm gonna hold you to that."

"You do that," Lyla replies with a wry grin.

With Slade effectively no longer a threat and no longer his responsibility, Oliver can't make himself stay in the room any longer, not with Felicity and Ellie worried about him upstairs… not when the last time he saw Ellie's little face it was filled with terror and covered in tears… not when the last time he heard Felicity, she was screaming his name with a desperate kind of primal fear.

"Lyla, thank you," Oliver says, and she nods in his direction, crossing the room to attach some sort of device around Slade's neck. "I need to go check on Ellie and Felicity."

"Who's Ellie?" Lyla asks.

"It's a long story," Diggle replies. "I'll fill you in later."

Whatever Lyla says in response, Oliver doesn't hear, and he doesn't care.

He jogs out of the kitchen in search of his girls.

They're in the house, he knows that much. The garage is off the kitchen and they wouldn't have been able to get to it without Slade seeing, and the basement is highly unlikely unless Felicity started opening every single door downstairs looking for it, which he knows she wouldn't do. Her priority would've been to get Ellie to safety, first and foremost, and anyone's natural instinct would have been to run to familiar ground.

They're not in his room or Thea's, or the half dozen guest rooms he tries. He starts opening and closing doors with more force than necessary, calling Felicity's name, followed by Ellie's, his rough voice echoing down the hall, getting nothing in return.

Where are they?

The mansion is huge, and it's full of tiny crevices and hiding spots… Felicity wouldn't leave the grounds, would she? Did she run out the front door? No, she doesn't have her car, and running barefoot down the graveled driveway to the street that's a easily twenty mile stretch to Starling City isn't feasible. She'd know that.

Oliver scours the entire second floor before moving up to the smaller third floor, wondering if he'd been too quick to assume Felicity would go upstairs. Maybe she knew familiar ground was exactly where Slade would check, and the second floor would be his first stop, so she'd done the exact opposite, heading down instead of up…

He's opening one of the dusty storage rooms near the attic, ready to give up and check downstairs when he hears it…

A tiny whimper, followed by an even softer hushing noise.

"Oh god," he whispers, relief flooding his chest as he dives for the closed bathroom door. When he opens it - when he sees them - it drives home exactly how terrifying all of this has truly been.

They're huddled in an antique bathtub, Ellie curled up on Felicity's lap, crying softly into the fabric of her shirt as Felicity holds a gun aimed steadily at the doorway. It's ancient; it probably doesn't even have bullets and almost certainly wouldn't shoot - he's almost positive it was his grandfather's once upon a time, and that it used to be on display in his mother's office - but none of that matters.

The sharp squeak of Felicity's feet on the porcelain tub sounds as she pushes herself back, shielding Ellie, ready to do anything

The instant she registers it's him at the door, Felicity gasps. Her hand sags, the heavy gun falling from trembling fingers, landing on the floor with a thud.

"Oliver," she sobs, her face crinkling in relief, joy and fear.

If it's anything like the fear he'd felt downstairs, he can only imagine what hers is: fear that she wasn't going to see him again, that he was dead, that her last minutes were going to be filled with her daughter crying into her chest, both of them just waiting, waiting to be found, for god knows what to happen…

"Felicity," he whispers as she scrambles to her feet, Ellie still in her arms.

Oliver launches himself towards the tub, catching her just as she reaches for him. He hauls them up into his arms, not feeling his bruised throat, or what might be a broken rib, or his sore jaw...

He only feels them, and it's the best damn feeling in the entire world.

"Oh god, Oliver," Felicity says, desperation lacing her words, tears staining her cheeks. She pushes her face into his chest, inhaling, breathing him in and he does the same, pressing a hard kiss to the top of her head. She pulls him closer, shaking her head - she's trembling - as she whispers, "Oh god, I thought I wasn't… that you… I wasn't sure if I was going to see you again. And Ellie…"

"Felicity," he rasps, hugging her tighter, making Ellie yelp. He instantly releases them, looking down at his girls. "You're okay, you're okay."

"Oh, Oliver," Felicity whispers, her lip quivering as her eyes rove over him. He can only imagine the damage on his throat, much less where he'd taken a few solid hits to the face. She reaches up with her free hand, her fingers hovering over him. "Are you…?"

"I'm okay," he replies, nodding.

"And Slade?" she asks. "He's...?"

"He's gone," Oliver confirms and she lets out a shuddery sigh of relief. "And… you? You're okay, nothing…?"

"We're okay," she says, looking down at Ellie, who's been uncharacteristically silent. Felicity inhales deeply as she hoists their daughter up a little bit. Her voice is thick with tears, but it's strong as she says, "We have one brave little girl here. She was keeping me calm."

"Hey, honey," Oliver says, leaning down so he's level with her. He wants to ask her if she's okay, but he knows it's a stupid question, one he doesn't want to hear her answer anyway. Instead he smiles, meeting her gaze. "Hi, sweetie."

"Hi, daddy." Ellie's voice is small, tears shimmering in her eyes. They don't fall though as she takes in Oliver's injuries. He wants to hide them, to tell her he's fine… but he doesn't, because they both know he'd be lying.

"Is the bad man gone?" she finally asks.

Oliver's heart breaks, that that's the first thing she asks, that she knows exactly what she's asking him. A quiet sniffle from Felicity tells him she feels the exact same way, and while something deep inside him twists at the thought that this is the life he's given his daughter, there's something else too… something more.

Pride.

Elizabeth 'Ellie' Queen is only halfway to being four years old and already she's ranked among the bravest people he's ever met. This is the life he gives her, because this is who he is, who Felicity is… but they raise a little girl who is more than capable of handling it.

And that heals his heart just as quickly.

"Yeah, baby," Oliver replies, his voice cracking. "He's gone."

Ellie nods, her eyes dropping to his mottled throat. "Are you okay?"

He smiles, his eyes slipping shut, nodding shortly before saying, "I will be. I promise."

"Okay," Ellie says, believing him, and before he can blink, she's launching herself out of Felicity's arms and into his.

He doesn't care how badly he's hurt, or that her arms wrapping around his neck make his eyes water and his lungs seize… he doesn't care, because his daughter is in his arms, and she's okay, and that's all that matters.

Oliver hugs her, cradling her close, turning his face into her little neck, taking a deep breath.

Home.

"C'mere," Oliver whispers, wrapping his arm around Felicity, pulling her into his embrace. She smiles as she holds both of them, her eyes shiny with tears. He returns it, his own tears blurring his vision as he presses a kiss to her forehead before leaning down to kiss her lips properly.

He's home.

Chapter Text

The shower going in the background is the only sound in the room. It echoes Ellie's soft breathing, highlighting the silent house. Moira had gone to the hospital with Raisa to make sure she was settled and to get the nasty gash on her own head checked - Oliver had declined to go, despite both Felicity and Moira's protests - and John had left with Lyla, to help with Slade, the ARGUS helicopter making the walls shake slightly…

Leaving just them.

Felicity sits with her back against the sofa in the pillow fort, her legs tucked up against her chest, her arms wrapped around her knees. It's only been a couple of hours since she'd woken up to the sound of Ellie's giggling and Oliver's hushed whispers, but it feels longer than that, like an entire year has passed in the space of a few minutes. Fear does that, she supposes, makes time get wonky. Or wonkier, as it were, in their case.

The midday sun shining through the large picture windows in Oliver's room warms the little space through the gunmetal sheet, lighting it up in a dusky gray that makes the feeling of being cocooned even more prevalent.

She can't take her eyes off Ellie where she's fast asleep, tucked in against the extra pillows from the sofa in the little makeshift bed her daughter had put together after their shower.

Ellie had been quiet, ever since Oliver had found them, only speaking up when they'd crawled into her pillow castle.

"Can we do story time, momma?"

The request had thrown her and it'd taken Felicity a second to respond. She'd been waiting for Ellie to say something, to say anything - she wasn't sure what she was more afraid of, her asking questions she couldn't possibly answer, or her not saying anything at all.

But then Ellie had cuddled up in the pillows, wrapping herself up in an afghan, asking for a story about the warrior queen who defeated the bad magician, and it'd been surprisingly easy to do exactly what the little girl was asking.

Maybe they did this when something bad happened, to bring some levity to a situation that was the exact opposite of that.

"The warrior queen, huh?" Felicity had asked as she'd pressed the blanket in tighter around the little girl.

"Yep. Warrior Queen Nyssa."

Nyssa… like League of Assassins, terrifying warrior Nyssa? Daughter to Ra's Al Ghul, Heir to the Demon Nyssa? That's who she has guest-starring in her daughter's bedtime stories?

"How about we skip the warrior stories today," Felicity had said. When Ellie's face had dropped slightly, she'd quickly added, "And talk about the mischievous code frog?"

"That's the story gramma tells when she watches me."

The thought of her mother telling her daughter bedtime stories makes her chest clench with an affection she's never felt before.

Felicity had laid down next to Ellie as she'd said, "She used to tell me that story too."

"I know. Gramma says you made your own mischievous code frog when you were little."

Felicity had laughed - both at the memory and at the way Ellie trips over the word 'mischievous.' "I did. Do you wanna hear about that?"

"Okay."

Ellie had fallen asleep after barely a minute.

Felicity had wanted to follow her. She wanted to lay down and cuddle up with her daughter, holding onto her as tight as she could, and fall asleep to the sound of her steady heartbeat…

But she'd been afraid if she closed her eyes…

No.

That wouldn't happen, because she was okay, they were all okay.

Ever since Oliver had found them, since she'd seen that he was alive and well and heard that Slade was gone, Felicity had steeled herself, pushing her tears back - it was time to rejoice, not freak out… but watching her daughter sleeping peacefully, watching her little chest rise and fall, her soft eyelashes brushing her beautiful cheeks, she hadn't been able to hold them back.

She's still here.

When a quiet sob had slipped past Felicity's lips, Ellie had shifted, turning towards her, like she could feel her turmoil. Felicity had smiled, tears blurring her vision as she'd cupped her little cheek, brushing her thumb over her soft brow. She was so perfect, so unbelievably perfect… and she'd almost…

Another sob had Felicity sitting up, pushing herself back before she woke Ellie up and there she'd stayed, unable to take her eyes off her.

She's exhausted. Mentally. Physically. Forget that she'd gotten up just a few hours ago and that she'd slept more last night than she had in months. The instant she'd heard those gunshots in the kitchen, the instant they'd rushed in there and seen Ellie in Slade's arms…

Felicity closes her eyes, trying to push the image away, but it's branded in her mind. It's going nowhere, and she knows she'll remember it for the rest of her life.

But that wasn't even the worse part.

No, that had come when Slade's hand had wrapped around Oliver's throat, literally squeezing the life out of him… and Ellie had flickered.

Felicity's throat closes at the memory and she digs her nails into her arms until it passes, but it won't go away.

She'd never felt the kind of terror that had swamped her in that moment as she'd looked down, watching her daughter literally fade away.

As Oliver's struggles had started to lessen, as his body had grown limp, the weight of Ellie in her arms had lessened, disappearing until she almost didn't feel her for a moment.

She'd flickered, right before her eyes, like a messy wave of color…

Disappearing from existence.

Felicity had screamed for Oliver. She couldn't lose both of them, and while logic had told her that of course that was what was happening - that without Oliver in this time, there'd be no Ellie in the future - she couldn't stop from rallying, from fighting, for her family, for the man she loved, for the daughter she was going to have with him…

And then Moira had shoved a butcher's knife right into Slade's eye, and the second he dropped Oliver, Ellie was back, solid and sure and there.

Had Ellie recognized what was happening? Had she known that something was wrong, had she seen her world fading around her as her father struggled for his life? Her daughter's desperate screams for Oliver still echoed in her ears, and she knew it was fear from watching Slade hurting him just as much as a fear that something wasn't right.

That she'd almost disappeared, even if she couldn't grasp the concept in the least.

Felicity takes a steadying breath, vaguely hearing the shower shut off.

Her eyes never leave her daughter.

Ellie's still here, she still happens.

Felicity slides her foot across the carpet and under the afghan, touching Ellie's leg with her toes.

She's solid.

Tears burn her eyes and a large lump starts to crowd her throat, making it hard to breathe again… but she pushes it down, forcing herself to inhale.

They're okay, they're all okay, and that's all that matters.

Ellie's okay.

Felicity's so intent on her daughter that she doesn't hear the sound of the bathroom door opening or Oliver's feet shuffling over the ground as he moves around the room for a minute before making his way towards her.

She doesn't hear him until his soft, "Felicity?" as he gently pulls the sheet up.

Felicity jumps with a startled gasp, her heart leaping up her throat as she spins to face him, her hand flying to cover her chest. She's already moving towards Ellie, to protect her, hearing nothing but the sound of blood in her ears until she registers who it is.

Oliver instantly freezes where he's poked his head into the pillow fort. He doesn't move for a second as she just stares at him, and then he finally whispers, "Hey… it's just me."

His voice breaks through the white noise in her head, and Felicity closes her eyes with a breathy, "God," before letting out an abrupt little laugh, looking back at him. Her hand's still on her chest; her heart's pounding. She nods. "I knew that, I'm sorry."

"No." Oliver shakes his head, getting down on his knees tenderly. "You don't need to apologize, it's more than understandable."

He looks at Ellie, his face softening as he tries to crawl into the fort with them. Try being the operative word. He's a mess of bruises and welts, and she can only imagine what the rest of him looks like under his sweats and t-shirt. He's wincing, every movement clearly causing him pain.

Felicity's hand lands on his shoulder without a second thought, stopping him.

Oliver looks at her with startled eyes. "What?"

"What are you doing?" she says, keeping her voice just as low as his.

"I'm…" He furrows his brow, and she can see the wheels turning in his head. "Did you… want to be alone, or…?"

"No," Felicity replies quickly. "No, no, I really don't want to be alone. I just meant… you need to be in a bed. You can barely stand much less crawl around in tiny pillow forts that are clearly made for Ellie-sized people."

"I'm fine," he says, trying to crawl in again but she's having none of it, stopping him again. He's in no position to push past her though. "Felicity…"

"Did you wrap your ribs?" she asks. "Or at least tape them?"

"Felicity." Oliver gives her a level look but she can see the hint of exasperation, and it makes her clench her teeth. "I'm fine."

"You do realize the term 'fine' doesn't include nearly dying, right?" she retorts, her voice rising, each word coming out sharper than the last. "Because last time I checked, a maniac nearly choking you to death does not leave you in any way, shape or form 'fine,' Oliver."

The silence that follows is deafening.

Felicity blinks, barely breathing as Oliver stares at her with an unreadable expression. Almost like she can still hear the words reverberating around them, she looks to see if she woke Ellie, but the toddler's still sound asleep.

Her eyes find his again, and when she sees his frown, her shoulders drop, highlighting just how tense her muscles are. "I'm sorry, that was…"

"Stop saying you're sorry, Felicity," Oliver replies, sounding as tired as she feels. With another wince, he backs out, waving for her to follow him with a soft, "C'mon."

Felicity looks at Ellie, feeling the nearly irresistible urge to stay right there for the rest of eternity, but another urge, just as irresistible, pulls at her to follow him. They need to talk, but she also wants to make sure he's okay. She follows him out, moving with a swiftness Oliver definitely does not have as he's barely pushing himself to his feet by the time she's out.

He doesn't give her a second to chastise him for thinking it was a good idea to be crawling on his hands and knees - especially a very injured knee. Instead, he grabs her hand, pulling her close.

"Oliver," she starts, trying to take it back, but he doesn't let her. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't," he replies, moving to hold her but she stops him.

"Oliver…"

Felicity presses against his chest lightly, and they both know it's not just his wounds.

"You're right," he says, and she pauses. Oliver takes advantage of it, wrapping his arms around her. He pushes his hands up her back, his fingers tangling in her still-wet hair, his face tightening with pain. "I'm not fine."

Felicity bites the inside of her lip, fighting the tears that well at his words, before replying, "Yeah, well, I suppose that depends on which kind of fine you're talking about." She gives him a tight smile before looking at his chest. Her mind automatically fills in the injuries she knows he has under his shirt as she continues, her voice a little higher, "Because what I'm seeing is very fine. Very muscle-y. Very fine."

Oliver smiles, like he knows exactly what she's doing.

"And I can't believe I can actually say that now," she continues with a nod, "and not feel like I just word vomited all over the place. Well, it's still word vomit I guess, but it's a little more intentional… although that makes it sound like all the other times were intentional, which they weren't. Or maybe they were. I don't know." Felicity looks up to find him staring at her and her babble fades away. "What?"

"I should be the one saying I'm sorry," he says, cupping her cheek.

"Oliver," she whispers, closing her eyes, "that's not what I meant."

"I know," he responds, brushing his thumb over her bottom lip. "But I should be. I should be apologizing for everything. For bringing you into this, for going to you when I got shot that day, for…"

"For not realizing that this is my life, and it's my choice to be with you," Felicity interrupts, her voice hard, and when Oliver's eyebrows shoot up, she's too on edge to wonder if it's because of her words or because she keeps biting his head off; either way, she doesn't care enough to be embarrassed. "Because it is, you know. My choice. To be here. With you."

His eyes dance over her face, taking her in as he whispers, "I know."

"And if that's really what this is about…"

"It's not," Oliver interrupts. "I almost died this morning, Felicity."

Felicity stiffens. "Yeah. I know." She bows her head. "I was there, remember?"

"Hey," he whispers, tilting her face back up to his. She doesn't realize there's tears in her eyes until she sees how blurry he is. "I can't count how many times I've almost died." Her chest tightens and Felicity furrows her brow to keep the tears at bay - this is so not what she wants to hear right now. "How many times I've been so close I could taste it... I could see it… or how many times I wished something was there to just push me over, to get it over with."

"Oliver," Felicity breathes, a tear slipping down her cheek. Does he think this is making it better, easier for her?

His thumb catches the tear, his eyes becoming glassy with his own… but he's smiling.

"But it was different, this morning. It wasn't just because it was Slade and everything that's happened between us, or that…"

He presses his lips into a thin white line, and for the first time she sees his struggle for the right words. She tentatively rests her hands on his chest - his heart is pounding. Oliver takes a deep breath and leans in, touching his forehead to hers.

"It was different because I almost lost you. And Ellie." His voice cracks and he takes a quick breath. "I almost lost you both before I even really had you."

A soft sob slips past her lips, a shiver falling down her spine and Felicity inhales quickly to hide it, squeezing her eyes shut - this, this is definitely too much, she can't hear this right now, but he's having none of it.

Oliver hears her and takes a shaky breath, cupping her face with both hands. He kisses her forehead for a long moment and then he moves down, dropping a soft kiss on her brow, her nose, her cheek before pressing his forehead against hers again.

She should say something, she should tell him she knows exactly what he's talking about, but she can't… because if she does, if she opens the gates to that, she doesn't think she could get them closed again, and the idea of letting him see everything like that is terrifying.

A small part of her takes a second to marvel at the fact that it's Oliver pushing this, being so open, talking about his feelings… even his heart is calm again, beating slowly under her palm.

She's the one who feels like running.

Felicity thinks back to when she told him about Thea, about her family… about losing someone that means that much to her again.

She had no idea what she was talking about, no idea how much Oliver really meant to her…

How much Ellie means to her.

"I want to be sorry that this is the life that I give you," he continues, "that I brought you into this, that this is the world we have Ellie in, but… I'm not." He pauses, and she doesn't have to open her eyes to see he's smiling as he says, "Because then I wouldn't have you… I wouldn't have the family you give me."

"God, Oliver," Felicity manages, shaking her head. She tries to take a deep breath, tries to get her thoughts in order, to process, to think, to feel

"Because then I wouldn't have you… I wouldn't have the family you give me."

She wants to say more, she wants to tell him more, but the words are stuck in her throat. He's giving her so much, trying to meet her halfway, trying to understand how she's feeling, to tell her that he feels the same. She knows what he's doing, but she nearly lost everything just a few hours after getting it all, and while Oliver is sitting here talking about how grateful he is that he has her, she's…

What?

She doesn't know, she doesn't know how she feels - she can't think.

Felicity doesn't want him to go away - that's the last thing she wants, but the idea of continuing on, of giving him more… She's scared, at the depth of her feelings, of how much he means to her, how much he's always meant to her, and Ellie… that's in another realm.

He waits, letting her think, and she's not sure how much time passes, how long they stand there, holding each other. It feels like forever, but it's probably only a minute because suddenly Oliver lets out a breathy chuckle as he whispers, "This would probably sound a lot better if I wasn't lisping."

It has the desired effect, shattering the heaviness of the moment with a few simple words.

Felicity laughs, the sound coming out in a choked moan, and he chuckles again. She steps closer to him, curling into him, and she feels his heart pick up again as she leans into his touch.

He slides his fingers up into her hair, cradling her as she decides to just say it.

"It's not just… that," she whispers. "Or us."

His heart jumps under her palm, but he doesn't say anything.

"It was both of you."

Oliver pulls back to look at her and she chances a glance at him. His brow is furrowed, and she sees the realization slowly growing as he turns her words over in his mind. She can't blame him; it's hard to wrap her own mind around - Ellie exists here and now, in this time - she's real - but she's from the future, which means if Oliver dies now… there's no them, or her.

Felicity's not sure she would've let herself think about it until she'd seen her daughter flickering out of existence… she probably would have wondered how the time consequences would have worked, if Ellie was still in their time - would it mean she was permanently there, would she become a paradox, or would she fade Back-to-the-Future-style - but either way, it's nothing compared to actually seeing her daughter disappear.

"I couldn't lose both of you, Oliver, and I almost did."

"What?" he whispers, his eyes searching hers, his hands brushing her hair off her face.

"She flickered," Felicity says, her voice cracking as a tears burn her eyes. The second the words hit Oliver he stiffens, a pain she's never seen filling his eyes. "She… she flickered, when Slade was…"

She can't even say the words. Felicity closes her eyes, sending hot tears streaming down her cheeks, her mind slipping back to what it'd been like to see Oliver dangling from Slade's grasp, his face turning red and then purple as he struggled for air, as he tried to push Slade away, to save himself… and then…

"I was so scared… she was disappearing, and oh god, she was terrified, Oliver. She was so scared and I didn't know what to do, because it wasn't just… her, it was you… and then when your mom... "

Felicity laughs incredulously.

"When your mom stabbed him in the eye, she was back. She was back and solid and here..." She meets his gaze and her heart breaks when she sees exactly what she's feeling reflected back at her. The sudden urge to protect him from this rises in her and she almost tells him that was it, but she can't. She needs him to know just as much as he needs to hear it. "And you were okay, you were okay, but Slade was still there and Ellie was screaming for you… so I ran. The second she was back, I didn't even think about staying, Oliver, I didn't think about anything but getting Ellie out of there, like maybe if I got her far away enough it wouldn't happen again, that she'd be okay…"

The words are tumbling out in a rush, but she can't stop, she doesn't want to stop. Now that she's opened the gates, she needs it out, she needs it all out, she needs to tell him everything.

"I left you and your mom and I ran."

His voice is rough as says, "Felicity…"

"I didn't know where to go or where to hide, I didn't know what was happening, if Slade was going to win or… or if he was going to kill you." Her words crack. "And I didn't get to tell you how I feel or how happy I was this morning when everything was perfect, and suddenly everything was falling apart and I didn't know what to do."

Oliver lets out a tiny sound of pain and wraps his arms around her waist, nearly pulling her off her feet in his haste to hold her. Felicity buries her face in his neck as she continues, her voice thick with the tears wetting his skin.

"I went upstairs, and I found that old gun, and I knew it was probably useless but it was something and I needed something…

"But then nothing happened - nothing happened - and I was sitting there with Ellie and she was crying, she was so scared, and I felt so alone, and the entire time I was holding onto her, waiting for her to disappear again because… because I didn't know if…"

"Oh Felicity," Oliver breathes, hugging her tighter and she clings to him with a shuddering sob. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"And then I heard the gunshots, a lot of them, and I wanted to see if you were okay because my mind started thinking up all these horrible things, like maybe you got shot, but were still alive, that was why Ellie was still there, but what if you were bleeding out, what if you were dying, and would she disappear again, and I didn't know, but then I didn't want… if Slade… I didn't want him to find us, or see us, and…"

"I didn't even think, Felicity, god..." he whispers, his hand sliding up her back to the back of her neck, pressing her closer, and the way he grips her, almost too tight, tells her he's back in the kitchen with Slade. "When Slade… when he had me, you were the only thing I was thinking about, Felicity, you and Ellie… and I kept hearing her screaming, I kept seeing her in his arms - she was so tiny - and I had to make sure that she was okay, that nothing would happen to her, not ever again…"

He pauses, and she knows.

"Even if that meant I had to die."

Felicity holds him tighter, because of course that's what he was thinking; that's who he is, that's the kind of man he is, and it's part of why she loves him so much...

But what about her?

Felicity instantly feels selfish and ridiculous, because it's a choice she would have made in an instant, no questions asked… but that doesn't make being on the other side any easier.

What would have happened to her if Oliver had died, if Ellie had disappeared, if Slade had taken them both from her? Would he have killed Moira next, and then her? But what if she'd survived, what if the second Oliver was gone, after he'd gotten what he wanted… would he have disappeared, leaving her and Moira?

What about her?

It takes her a second to realize he's trembling, and when she does, she slides a hand up his neck, pressing her fingers through his damp hair.

He takes a deep breath, letting it out in a shaky exhale. "But if that'd been you, if you'd done that, Felicity, I wouldn't have…"

"I know," Felicity whispers, nodding, closing her eyes, pressing her face into his hair. "I know."

A long moment passes, and they just hold each other, finding solace - finding relief - in each other.

Oliver buries his face in the crook of her neck. "I'm sorry I didn't find you earlier. I had to make sure Slade was taken care of, I couldn't leave him there without making sure he was down, especially with my mom..."

"I know that, Oliver, and I am the last person who would want you to." Felicity furrows her brow, pulling back to look at him. "I didn't have that massive freakout on you because I was trying to make you feel guilty."

A small smile tugs at his lips, sliding his hands up her arms. "I know that."

Not less than twenty-fours ago, he would have had a very different response, and so would she, because right now, she believes him. Oliver 'I-wear-my-guilt-like-a-shawl' Queen just skipped right over a perfect guilt opportunity, and even if she hadn't said it to make him feel worse than he already did, he could have easily taken that on.

It's another reminder how much has changed, not only around them but between them… and it's barely been a day. One day. What's the rest of their lives like, especially with a second kid on the way?

God, if this is how their lives are every day, the sex must be amazing.

Oliver chuckles.

Felicity closes her eyes, scrunching up her face. "I said that out loud, didn't I?"

"Yeah."

With a heavy sigh, she lets her head fall back… but the only thing she can think is how good it feels to stretch her neck muscles.

"It's probably because we just had the morning from literal hell that I can't bring myself to care," she says.

Oliver smiles again, a softer one that reaches his eyes, that erases all the pain and discomfort right off his face - her own special 'Felicity' smile - and the air suddenly feels lighter.

Felicity takes a deep breath, because she can. The band of fear that'd been wrapped around her chest is gone, and when she exhales, Oliver slides his hands over her shoulders and down her arms, tangling his fingers with her.

"Let's lay down. Take a nap," he whispers and she's nodding before she's even processed the words completely, because that sounds like exactly what she needs - what they both need. They may have woken up a few hours ago but she feels like she's been awake for three days straight.

He pulls her towards the bed and she definitely does not miss his wince at the simple movement.

"Oliver," she says, stopping him. "Let me at least wrap your ribs."

"They're really not that bad."

Felicity's already shaking her head, dropping his hand, turning to the bathroom. She hears him sigh behind her as she wipes the drying tears off her face and grabs the first aid kit she'd spied last night. It's seriously lacking in supplies, but it at least has an Ace bandage, which will do just fine.

She leaves the kit behind and is already unraveling the wrap as she walks back out, but Oliver isn't where she left him. Instead he's leaning over to look into the pillow fort, his body stiff like even that is too much strain, as he pokes his head under the sheet, checking on Ellie.

He's moving slowly, as if the sound of the sheet moving might wake her, which is just silly since her parents had just been standing right outside having an emotional conversation that more than rivaled every single emotional moment in Felicity's life.

"Still asleep?" she asks.

"Yeah," he replies, gingerly letting the sheet back down. He turns to her and she motions to the bed. He sits down, already working on tugging his shirt over his head. The instant he gets it to his ribs, he winces and she gets a glimpse of the damage.

He should be doing more than wincing.

There's an ugly patch of discolored skin over his entire side, right where Slade had hit him more than once. It extends down, wrapping around his back, and she can only imagine what his kidneys look like, remembering with vivid alacrity the sound of Slade's fist landing on his tender flesh.

At her gasp, Oliver grits his teeth and yanks the shirt off the rest of the way, letting a pained breath out as he says, "It looks worse that it is."

"I really, really doubt that," Felicity replies, and as she unravels the wrap some more, her hands are shaking. She steps into his space with a soft, "Arms up," and he instantly complies, his eyes never leaving her face as she concentrates on wrapping his ribs.

It's not perfect, it probably won't help that much, but it's something and it makes her feel better.

A small rush of gratefulness fills her chest, realizing that he's only doing this for her.

"What?" he asks, and she wonders what he sees on her face.

Felicity shakes her head with a little smile, meeting his eyes, "Nothing."

He hums, not believing her, but he recognizes it isn't anything worth pushing. But there is something they should talk about.

"How's your mom taking all of this?" she asks.

Oliver snorts, which makes him wince, and he glances down to check her progress. "She's taking it just fine, I think."

"What does that mean?"

"That means," Oliver says, "that she thought my asking Lyla to come pick up Slade wasn't enough. She had… other ideas about how to eliminate the problem."

Felicity stops to look at him. "Eliminate, like… eliminate-eliminate?"

Oliver nodded. "Yeah."

"Well, it wouldn't be the worst plan…"

"Eliminate like calling someone she knows to cut his body up into tiny pieces, eliminate."

She can only blink. Should it worry her that she's not even a little bit surprised?

"Yeah," he repeats, seeing her face.

"Okay then. Your mother is doing a great job of maintaining her 'Scariest Person Ever' title - which is saying something considering who showed up this morning."

He huffs out a tired, disbelieving chuckle, like he's still trying to wrap his head around it.

Felicity finishes up the wrap with flourish, stepping back to check her work. It's not that great, and she purses her lips, giving him a look.

"We really need to restock that kit," she says, tucking in a loose end of the wrap.

Oliver smiles. "We'll keep that in mind for next time."

Next time.

Her stomach sinks, the same fear from earlier crawling up her throat and she unconsciously glances at the tent, feeling the urge to go over and make sure Ellie's still there. She is, she knows she is…

She sees Oliver follow her gaze from the corner of her eye as his hand captures hers.

"Do you think it gets easier?" she asks.

"No," Oliver replies instantly.

Felicity bites her lip, her voice shaky as she says, "And I'm pregnant when we send her back." His fingers tighten around hers and she holds him back just hard. "I'm on the verge of a heart attack right now and that's with just Ellie."

"I don't think we'd be having another baby if we didn't think we could handle it," he says softly and she laughs, shaking her head before looking back at him.

"You know, it's really weird that I'm the one freaking out and you're so calm about this," she says.

He huffs out a laugh, but that's not enough because it's weird. She's the calm, level one, right? At least she thought she was, while Oliver was the 'react with the most radical emotions ever' one.

"I guess I could be freaking out about normal things," Felicity continues, "like, 'How do we afford all those diapers,' especially since you're technically broke right now since Isabel took everything and I don't have a job anymore, and oh god, I don't have a job anymore." Her eyes widen. "How are we going to pay for anything, how are we going to take care of her - how do we take care of two babies? And that's not even counting keeping them alive because we're constantly running around with our vigilante signs on our backs and-"

"Hey, hey, Felicity," Oliver interrupts, tugging on her hand. "Take a breath."

She does, inhaling too quickly, which makes Oliver chuckle. His eyes on her, he takes a deep breath, as deep as he can with his ribs, and this time she follows his lead. He does it again, and with the second breath, she feels some calm seeping in.

"First of all," Oliver says, pulling her closer. "You said Ellie mentioned you have an entire company in the future. I'm pretty sure we aren't broke."

"Right. Right, duh, of course," Felicity says.

Oliver chuckles quietly, a wistful look crossing his face. He stares at her for a beat before saying, "How about we take a little time to get to know what we feel like before we start freaking out about the price of diapers and college?"

"I'm pretty sure we got a good idea of that this morning," Felicity replies cheekily, earning her a smile and what might even be a blush.

"You know what I mean," Oliver says. "Take some time for… us. Learn what we're like." He pauses, and he bites his lip. "As a... couple."

"A couple," she repeats slowly, letting that sink in. Right, a couple, of course. Because they're probably a couple - of course they're a couple in the future, that's a dumb thing to think - but right now? Right now it's… well, it's still a little shocking. "You and me. As a couple."

"Yeah." Oliver spreads his legs, pulling her between them. "Like… people who… do things… together."

When Felicity smiles again, it's more natural, relaxed and even a little bit amused at his tentative words as she puts her hands on Oliver's shoulders. "People who do things together, huh?"

"Yeah," he says, nodding, his hands landing on her waist. He licks his lips the instant he touches her and a light flush creeps over her skin, her breath catching at the familiar way he holds her. He smiles, a soft little smile that almost looks playful as he says, "Like… stuff, like… food."

"Food…"

"Together."

"So eating food together?" Felicity teases, cupping his neck.

"Yeah." When she doesn't respond, he presses his lips together. "Like dinner."

"Dinner. Like a date?" The instant the word leaves her mouth, the reality of it slams into her and she blinks. "A real date. A date-date."

"Well, yeah, I mean... " Oliver's mouth opens without a single sound and Felicity raises her eyebrows as he struggles. "The implication with dinner being that you… that there are…"

"Usually I'm the one talking in sentence fragments," she whispers, cutting him off with a tiny smile.

It's small… but hopeful.

She almost lost everything just a few short hours ago, but now she has it all back, all of it. The idea that she could lose it all again - lose them again - is still terrifying, but with Oliver there, with the way he's looking up at her…

Oliver stops, staring at her for a beat with what she might start terming his 'dopey face' before a grin crosses his lips, one that makes her heart skip a beat.

"So dinner…" Felicity says before he can speak.

"Dinner," he confirms.

"Dinner…" Felicity pauses, and for a reason she can't even begin to explain, she ducks her head with a blush.

Suddenly looking at him is too much, like seeing him staring at her is too much, like she didn't sleep in the same bed with him or make out with him that morning or they didn't just find out they have a child together - with another on the way - in the future.

Felicity smiles at her feet for a second before meeting his eyes again, and her smile grows when she sees the way he's looking at her.

"Dinner sounds good," she says.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Good." Oliver takes a deep breath, his eyes never leaving hers and then he nods, smiling. "Good."

"But not… tonight, right? Not that I don't want to, because I do, I really do, but you don't exactly look like you'd be up for it, and what would we do with Ellie? Even if we could go tonight... I don't want to leave her."

"Not tonight," Oliver says, shaking his head. "Definitely not tonight, I don't want to leave her either, or… the house, actually." He huffs out a little sound, and she knows he's wondering when the last time he'd actually wanted to stay home was. "She needs us after everything that happened this morning, and I don't want to ruin anymore of her normal than we already have." Felicity smiles at that, her heart skipping a beat for no other reason than realizing once more how incredible this man is. "And even though Slade isn't a problem anymore, he's hardly the only threat out there. So, not tonight. But soon?"

Not even the allusion to Isabel can dim her mood at the moment.

"I'll make sure to keep my calendar cleared for 'soon'," Felicity replies, biting her bottom lip at the promise in her words.

He grins.

It suddenly hits her that she's seen Oliver Queen smile more in the last day than she has in the entire time she's known him.

Whoa.

"So," Felicity says, "if I remember correctly, I think I heard you mention a nap." She closes her eyes. "It may have only been a day, but parenting is exhausting."

When he doesn't respond right away, she opens her eyes. He's just looking at her, and she has to fight the urge to look away at the earnestness she sees in his face.

He's is looking at her like she's hung the moon, and it's… intense.

Oliver finally nods with a quiet, "That sounds perfect."

This time Felicity can't stop the little smile tugging at her lips as she ducks her head. She steps back, helping him stand before looking at the bed - it's still rumpled from that morning. Oliver doesn't give her a second to second-guess anything. He pulls the comforter back and climbs in… but he doesn't go to the other side or make room for her. He's already claimed a side.

They have sides.

Whoa.

Would there ever come a time when she didn't feel the urge to whisper, 'Whoa,' whenever he did or said something?

Something tells her no.

With a delicate smile, Felicity climbs onto the bed, gingerly moving around him until she's on her end. She wiggles her way under the comforter… and then she pauses, frowning. Oliver reaches for her but he stops when he sees her face.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Definitely nothing. I was just…" She points at his chest. "I don't want to hurt you."

With a small roll of his eyes, Oliver moves closer to her again as he says, "There's no world where you could hurt me, Felicity."

"What if I'm a kicker in my sleep and I don't know it?" she asks. "And we both find out the hard way when I knee you right in your broken ribs?"

"Okay, well, first, they aren't broken…"

"Oh, you have an x-ray machine hiding in the bathroom?"

"No," he replies, giving her a level look. "I know what broken ribs feel like. But also, you're not a kicker." Oliver smiles, and it's almost salacious as he finishes with, "Trust me."

They'd already slept together… with each other… near each other.

"Right," Felicity breathes. "Okay. But you have to tell me if I'm hurting you."

"I will," he says, reaching for her and she scoots over before hesitating again. "What?"

"You keep saying I won't hurt you, but if I even wrap my arms around you…"

"C'mere," Oliver cuts in, grabbing her arm with a grimace, tugging her towards the center of the bed. She goes along, not sure what he's doing until he slides down the bed a bit and wraps his arms around her waist… like he's going to lay on her. Her heart picks up when she realizes what he's doing and she must have stiffened because he pauses, looking at her. "Is this okay?"

The simple question and the quiet way he asks makes something deep inside her melt.

"Yeah," Felicity whispers with a little smile. "Yeah, it's okay."

Oliver smiles softly, and the look he gives her makes the bed suddenly very, very warm.

He settles in, pillowing his head on her chest, pressing one arm underneath her back, the other draping over her thighs, his hand finding her waist. Her hands move of their own volition, one raking her fingers through his hair as the other drops to his bare shoulder.

"Your heart's racing," he whispers, his voice soft, full of wonder.

He doesn't have to tell her, she can feel it, thrumming through her veins, and it only goes faster when he mentions it.

"Yeah, well, it's not every day the guy I've had a slight crush on uses me as a pillow," she replies and her eyes widen when she realizes what she just said.

He chuckles, his hand sliding up waist slightly, his fingers drifting over her ribs, and her heart beats faster.

"Only a slight crush?" he asks, and she can hear the smile in his words.

"Oh yeah," she says lightly, running her fingers through his hair again. "Just a little one."

He falls silent, and after a moment, Felicity takes a deep breath. She watches his head rise with it and fall back down, the intimacy of it striking her - it's perfect, in a way she can't even describe.

Oliver's fingers lightly drift over her shirt, brushing across her skin, and it slowly becomes soothing instead of 'oh wow, Oliver is really doing this.'

As the minutes pass, they slowly grow more comfortable.

Felicity shifts, snuggling a little closer to him, her eyes growing heavy.

She's falling asleep, letting it pull her under, when she feels him press a soft kiss over her heart with a whispered, "Thank you."

Chapter Text

It makes absolutely no logical sense that you can feel someone looking at you. It violates all manner of scientific theory and that's the sort of thing that bothers Felicity. It sounds more magical than anything based in reality and yet…. and yet she wakes up entirely because she can feel someone staring at her.

Felicity slowly blinks herself awake, the chilling images from her dream fading. The world blurs for a second before righting itself. Her eyes instantly find the tiny someone who is doing the staring.

Ellie is nearly eye-level with her and scarcely a foot away, staring with huge, tear-crested eyes, a hesitant look on her face.

Alarm slices through Felicity, and in the next second she's wide awake.

"Hey, what's wrong?" she asks, her voice rough with sleep. She moves to sit up before realizing Oliver is still draped across her, weighing her down. Her movement wakes him and he instantly tenses behind her, his grip on her tightening before he realizes where he is. But before Felicity can do anything, Ellie's face suddenly crumples in a mess of tears - like Felicity's acknowledgement that something is bothering her has given permission for the waterworks to start in earnest - and wow, she has no idea how to cope with this. "Ellie, what's wrong?"

"I had scary dreams," Ellie replies in a tiny voice.

The distraught look on her face is absolutely heartbreaking.

"Oh…" Felicity whispers.

Of course she'd had nightmares. She'd been through so much in the last day, had her life threatened multiple times… It's enough to send anyone into a fit of violently horrifying dreams, but for a toddler? It had to have been a near certainty.

A wave of guilt and regret hits her. She should have expected this, should have made sure that when Ellie woke it was in her cocoon where she feels safe and protected. She'd been so worried about what she'd do when she was awake, she didn't stop to think about what might happen when she was sleeping.

"Come here, baby," Oliver says, sleep making his voice husky and delicious in a way that now is so not the time for. He holds his hand out in invitation to Ellie, who immediately takes it, diving into the bed with them.

"I wanna go home," Ellie cries, her little body shaking with tears. She curls into Felicity's side, pressing her wet face into Felicity's chest as Oliver wraps his arm around her. "I don't want the bad men to find me."

Felicity can taste her fear, feel it in her bones, and the same irresistible need to hold her close and never let her go fills her.

Tears burn Felicity's eyes as she cuddles her daughter closer.

"Nothing's going to happen to you," Oliver promises her, his voice strong, far more alert than Felicity's. He pulls both of them in closer, cocooning them, settling his large hand against her tiny back in comfort. He ducks his head, his forehead brushing Felicity's as he presses a firm kiss to Ellie's head. "We won't let it. We'll do anything to keep you safe. We send you back in time to keep you safe, remember?"

Ellie nods with a thick sniffle, but Felicity's pretty sure she has no idea what she's agreeing to.

Until…

"Why do the bad men try to get me, daddy?" she asks, looking up him with a gut-wrenching innocence that thoroughly hollows Felicity out, and leaves her feeling like she could double over from the emotional pain alone.

Oliver opens his mouth to respond, but he's got nothing, he doesn't know how to reply. Ellie stares at him, waiting, and he visibly sags under the weight of guilt he so frequently bears like an albatross hung around his neck. She can feel him retreating into himself, letting his better sense be suffocated by crippling amounts of self-recrimination.

But Ellie's not done talking.

"Big Sara says it's 'cause I grow up good an' Zoom doesn't like that, so he keeps coming back to find me," Ellie whimpers, looking for answers they don't have, and that sends her own brand of guilt searing through Felicity. "Is that why the bad man with one eye wants to hurt me too?"

Felicity's eyes meet Oliver's, both of them asking questions they know they can't resolve at the moment. Oliver's pensive look cuts through his guilt at least - Ellie's deflected some of it with the tiny bits of knowledge about the future that she unwittingly lets them in on.

"No, Ellie," Felicity finally says, realizing one of them has to say something and it's not going to be Oliver. She looks at Ellie, whose eyes shift over to her. Felicity cuddles her closer, running a hand over her tangled hair. "Slade wanted to hurt your daddy and he knew your daddy would be scared if he tried to hurt you. He was very mean, but he's gone now. Lyla locked him up in prison. He can't get you anymore."

"He can't get away?" Ellie asks softly, looking like she wants to believe her mother, but she's hesitant to.

"From Lyla?" Felicity tweaks Ellie's nose with forced lightness that she desperately hopes is contagious. "Have you met Lyla?"

"But…" Ellie starts, her brow furrowing as she tries to make sense of things. "He can't go to different times like Zoom and Uncle Barry and Big Sara?"

"What?" Oliver asks abruptly, sitting up, but he's too wrapped around both of them to get far. Instead he props himself up on his elbow as Felicity frowns, trying to follow what Ellie's saying. Big Sara, as in Sara Lance?

"He's stuck now?" Ellie asks, her eyes switching between them. "Right?"

"Yeah, sweetie," Felicity confirms without thinking, just needing to see that line of worry that's so like Oliver's disappear from between her daughter's brows. She's ninety-nine percent sure Slade can't actually travel through time - and if someone'd told her she'd be thinking about time travel so cavalierly a few days ago, she'd have laughed. "He's stuck now. He can't get out."

Ellie's eyes automatically fly to Oliver's waiting for the same confirmation from him. When none comes, her face crumples slightly, making Felicity look at him. He's frowning, lost in thought - trying to make sense of what Ellie's saying. Felicity nudges him with her knee and his eyes fly to hers.

"He can't get out," she repeats for emphasis, and when the words register, Oliver's face softens.

"No," he confirms. He smiles at Ellie. "He can't get out, baby. Not ever."

His reassurance helps. A little.

"So," Felicity says, drawing Ellie's eyes back to her. "You know… Big Sara?"

"'Course," Ellie replies, looking confused. "She visits sometimes with her friends when bad things happen. She looks funny when she comes without the big owie on her cheek." She sniffles. "I like Big Sara, but I don't like when she comes 'cause it's always badness."

That little tidbit illuminates absolutely nothing for Felicity. She's pretty sure it doesn't for Oliver either. Felicity wants to ask more, but she bites her tongue. It's incredibly frustrating, sneaking tidbits here and there that lack any foundation, but it's also probably a good thing. Knowing too much about the future is a dangerous thing and they've already figured out way more than is advisable.

"When can we go home?" Ellie asks again, an anxiety Felicity's never heard in her voice lining every syllable as she circles back to her original question. "I miss my room. And I want my toys." When neither of them answer, her voice starts louder. She tugs on her sleeves as she says, "I don't wanna be here anymore. I miss talking to the baby in momma's tummy and I wanna play with Sara… I wanna watch Rascal the Raccoon!"

She's working herself into a frenzy. Even someone as inexperienced with kids as Felicity can see that mounting.

"Uh," Felicity starts, scrambling to do something as tears flood Ellie's eyes again, her lower lip starting to tremble. She can't go home, she can't go to her room or talk to a baby that isn't in Felicity's stomach yet. Her mind blanks as Ellie becomes more agitated, more frantic, searching for something normal, a normal that they really can't give her.

"Okay, hey, it's okay, sweetie," Oliver whispers, rubbing his hand soothingly down her side, but it has almost the opposite effect.

"I wanna watch Rascal, daddy!" Ellie repeats.

"I know, sweetie, but it's not on here, remember? Remember we talked about that earlier?" That is so not the right answer as Ellie freezes, staring at Oliver with wide, wet eyes that tell both of them she's about to lose it. "Hey, it's okay, it's okay… we'll find something else, okay?"

At that, Felicity's mind spins right into place - there is literally only one of Ellie's points she can maybe address, and damned if she isn't going to try.

"Oliver, hold her," Felicity orders as she picks up the sobbing mess of toddler and turns her to him.

If her heart pounds furiously and her skin tingles at the sight of him immediately pulling Ellie to his chest and making soothing noises into her hair as her rocks her slightly… well, now isn't really the time to think about that.

"What are you doing?" he asks, sitting up, holding Ellie effortlessly in his arms as Felicity slides off the bed, grabbing her tablet.

"I have no idea if Rascal the Raccoon exists yet or not, but I'm sure as hell going to find out," she announces, swiping at the tablet with determination.

"But…" Ellie says, sniffling, visibly calming, almost as if the new purpose in the air calms her. She looks at Felicity, all red-faced with teary cheeks and a runny nose that is actually super gross. "Daddy said you didn't have Rascal?"

Oliver takes her messy face in stride though, grabbing a tissue from the nightstand, cleaning her up as Felicity gives her a smile.

"I'm trying to find him, baby," Felicity assures her, looking back at her tablet. "You don't like… I dunno… Winnie the Pooh? He's a pretty great animal, right? Even if he is friends with a kangaroo and I find that totally shady."

"Felicity," Oliver huffs with a laugh, shaking his head at her.

"He's not Rascal," Ellie points out with tremendous emphasis. "Rascal is my favoritest ever."

"Right," Felicity nods, her resolve doubling.

And… okay, Rascal-the-goddamned-Raccoon isn't on television yet, she finds out, but it is being produced and frankly there's a whole lot more questionable things she's done with her computer skills than a little television piracy, even if it is directly from the studio's servers.

Whatever.

"It won't be a new one, but I'll have Rascal loaded up for you in a few minutes, okay?" Felicity asks Ellie.

"Really?" Ellie asks with heart-breaking amounts of hope shining in her eyes. And seriously, her child is maybe a little too invested in a tv show. "You promise?"

"Pinky swear," Felicity nods. She glances back at her tablet, noting its progress. Or rather, lack of. It's running a bit slower than she'd have expected.

"What is it?" Oliver asks, reading her like a book. She hadn't even realized her brow was furrowing until he spoke. Felicity shakes her head, already flipping through a few screens to find the lag.

"Your wifi is horrible, Oliver," she tells him. "Honestly, it's like…"

She fades off mid-sentence, paling a little as she stares down at the tablet, her finger stilling over the wifi connection information. It's right there, clear as day.

"It's like what, Felicity?" he asks.

"It's like the universe is telling us to get a little sunshine," she covers with a tight smile. She's always been better at cover stories than him. "Ellie, why don't we take a walk outside while your show loads, okay?"

Oliver doesn't move, his eyes filling with questions. And yeah, they are definitely questions she needs to answer, but not now. Not here. That would be a terrible idea and it's just become incredibly clear how bad that would be.

"Fresh air seems like a good idea, right? It's all… clean, and… airy," she adds. The look on Oliver's face does nothing at all to destroy the notion that she sounds crazy. Well, she kinda feels crazy right now, it makes sense that she sounds kinda crazy too. But it's warranted.

Very, very warranted.

"Are you okay, momma?" Ellie asks.

Great. Even the three-year-old thinks she's acting weird.

A humorless laugh is the only thing she can produce before Oliver covers for her.

"She's fine, Ellie-bug," he says. He looks down at her. "Can you find your shoes? There's a tree fort in the yard I built for your Aunt Thea when she was just a little older than you. Have you ever seen it?"

"No!" Ellie says, perking up immensely. "Aunt Thea told me about it. She said it was very fun but that it got all burned up in the fire. I never got to see it."

Fire?

God, what the hell kind of future do they have?

Concern knits Oliver's brow as he tries to make sense of that little tidbit, and Felicity pushes her own curiosity away - she's way more concerned with the here and now than some possible eventual fire at a likely-abandoned tree fort.

"Shoes," Felicity agrees. Her mind jumps to what else they need. "Shoes are good. And a coat. Ellie needs a warm coat. Is that bag of stuff Digg brought still in the bathroom? Did he bring one? We need one."

"Felicity, it's May," Oliver reminds her, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Ellie still in his arms. "It's not exactly cold out."

"Kids need coats to play outside, Oliver," Felicity says firmly without thinking, and a second later, the reality that she sounds painfully like her own mother hits her. Donna Smoak might have let her outside in a short skirt but damned if she was going to let her out without a coat. "It's like a mom rule, okay? If I let her outside without a coat, she's going to catch a cold and then future me is going to be super mad at current me and wow, will that be confusing, and I'd much prefer to avoid all of that, okay?"

She's possibly slightly hysterical.

"Okay," Oliver agrees, obviously entirely to placate her as he sets Ellie down to go grab her shoes from the bathroom. "I think Digg brought a sweater. She can wear that, okay? Ellie, grab the sweater from the bag in there, okay?"

"'Kay," Ellie says, disappearing into the bathroom. The rustle of the bag and clothes quickly follows.

"Did he like knock over a Gymboree or something?" Felicity wonders aloud, cradling her tablet close to her chest as she looks for her own shoes. "'Cause, let me tell you, the mental image of him shopping for a three year old girl's wardrobe is a thing that's gonna stick with me."

"Hey!" Ellie says, wandering back into the room proudly wearing a too-large pink cardigan covered in unicorns. "Sara had one just like this! I love it! It's my very favorite because the big unicorn has two horns on accident and that makes it extra special."

She's sticking out her belly and chest proudly as she looks down at the double-horned unicorn. It's obviously a production error, one of those things that happens now and then when you've got a huge pile of mass produced clothing and too few people working quality control. But that means…

Felicity's eyes widen and her mouth opens a little as pieces start to shift into place in her head.

"It's the same sweater," she realizes. "Oliver… I don't think Digg knocked over a Gymboree. I think he already had this."

"Why would…?" Oliver starts as he tugs on a t-shirt before his brain catches up with what Felicity's suggesting. "You think…?"

"I think Lyla's already pregnant," Felicity confirms. "I think he already had this because he's already buying the baby things. Why he'd buy this in a toddler size I have no idea, John doesn't exactly strike me as the kind of guy to buy things from the cheap pile, but…"

"Aunt Lyla's having a baby?" Ellie asks, her eyes brightening to the point that it's almost unbelievable she was a sobbing mess five minutes ago.

Kids.

"Uh… I'm not sure, sweetie," Felicity says, kneeling down to button up Ellie's cardigan. "But, well…" She has no idea what to say. It's not like Ellie's exactly unaware of what's going on. So maybe… Felicity holds Ellie's hips still as she smiles at her. "Remember how you went back in time?"

Ellie nods, which is encouraging.

"Sara's not born yet. Maybe she's in Aunt Lyla's belly right now, and I think maybe that is her sweater. Pretty cool you get to wear it first, huh? When you go… when you… go back, you can tell her."

Oh, that'd been harder to say than she'd considered before opening her mouth.

Felicity pauses, staring at Ellie's guileless face. She hadn't even thought about what would happen when Ellie goes back, because of course she has to go back… the notion hurts way, way, way more than she's willing to think about at the moment.

Oliver's hand lands on her shoulder, squeezing slightly. She glances at him and the look on his face - both pained and hopeful - proves it wasn't easy to hear either.

"Outside," Felicity reiterates, standing back up. Ellie grabs her hand and Felicity holds onto her tightly. "Let's go see about a tree fort."

Barely a day has passed since this all began, so it really should surprise her when Oliver's hand slides from her shoulder down to the small of her back, but it doesn't. There's a closeness that, while new, also feels intensely honest.

Felicity's had her fair share of relationships before, she knows what that buzz of a young relationship feels like surging through her skin, but this isn't that. Or, at least it's not only that. It's respect and friendship. It's blinding amounts of attraction and a promise that whispers of forever. And while that's still slightly terrifying, it's terrifying in the best way possible.

So no, his hand on the small of her back isn't surprising, and she's pretty sure the way she tucks under his arm and leans into his impressive frame doesn't surprise him either. It doesn't hurt anything that his proximity - the way he practically surrounds her and stays within arm's reach of Ellie - makes her feel safe, either. It's something she could definitely use about now.

Ellie wasn't the only one who'd had nightmares.

They make their way downstairs and the second they reach the double door that leads to the back patio, Oliver starts, "Felicity, what-"

"How about that tree fort!" she cuts him off. "That's gotta be pretty far back on the property, right? Like… not near the house?"

"Yeah," he replies warily, his hand edging around her side so he's holding her a little close, like he's worried. Which is probably not entirely unfounded.

"Well… 'lay on MacDuff,'" she instructs making a broad gesture that's met with a blank stare. "I know most people say 'lead on MacDuff,' but that's not actually the line."

"Felicity, I have no idea what you're talking about," he tells her, even as he starts leading the way across the lawn, away from the house.

"Shakespeare?" Felicity asks as they head towards a small bank of trees near a fenced-off and incredibly-well-tended garden.

"… was not a thing I bothered reading in school, remember?" he replies with a short laugh.

"Why not?" Ellie asks curiously from Felicity's side, her little fingers still intertwined loosely with her mother's. "Didn't your teacher tell you to? Homework's important, daddy."

He grins, giving Ellie an appreciative glance before whispering to Felicity, "I'm glad she inherited that mindset from you," She smiles in reply, delight at the very notion of those words warming her veins. "Ellie, honey, you're right. I wasn't a very good student. I'm sure you'll be better than me."

"I am going to read all of the books one day," she replies with a kind of confidence only found in small children for whom possibility is endless. "I already know lots of letters."

"That's a really good goal, Ellie-bug. Lofty, but good," he tells her as they stop at the base of a tree, glancing up. Felicity follows his gaze - the tree's already in full bloom, and it's very nearly obscuring the treehouse, which… is impressive.

Oliver's hand falls from Felicity's side as he rounds to face Ellie. He crouches in front of her and points up at the branches of the tree.

"Look."

"Whoa," Ellie says, her eyes going huge as she takes in the sight in front of her with total delight. "Daddy, it's like a fairy castle!"

Felicity's not ashamed to say her breath catches a little bit as she takes it in herself. This is not a tree fort made of spare wooden planks and rusted nails. Not that she should have expected that for Thea Queen, really. But, surprisingly, neither is it something manufactured by an actual construction crew - not a thing Felicity would have put past the Queens for their little girl's playhouse.

Years have weathered its exterior a bit, but the treehouse is obviously handmade with tremendous care. It's intricate - she's pretty sure it has at least two distinct rooms - and sturdy-looking with glass pane windows and a shingled roof. It's mostly not painted, but it is stained. The wood looks rich, like the fairy castle Ellie proclaimed it, its windows edged in pink trim and curls of ivy carved out of the sides, left a weathered green.

"You built this?" Felicity asks, looking back at Oliver.

"Tommy and I both did," he agrees, ducking his head bashfully. "We took woodshop in the ninth grade. Thea was four and our goals were always lofty."

"You actually carved all of that yourself?" she asks again, blinking at him.

"Along with Tommy," he smiles, looking a little wistful at the memory. "It was Thea's fifth birthday present. My dad did hire an architect and we had help with the windows, but other than that… all us. It actually kept us out of a whole lot of trouble our freshman year of high school." He made a face. "Sophomore year was another story…"

"Wow," Felicity says in amazement. "That's just…"

"What?" he asks, looking a little apprehensive of her reaction as he stands back up and puts his hands in his pockets.

"Every time I think you can't impress me more, you prove me wrong," she tells him.

The smile he responds with isn't blindingly wide, but it definitely reaches his eyes. The quiet pleasure of her approval that plays across his face is at least as meaningful as any grin he's ever offered up.

"Can I play up there, daddy? Can I, please?" Ellie begs, practically vibrating with excitement.

"Sure," he tells her, looking down at her hopeful little face. "I wouldn't show you a fairy castle and then tell you that you couldn't go in it, would I? You might want to open the windows to air it out a bit, though. No one's been up there in a long time."

"Except the fairies!" Ellie declares, scrambling for the ladder carved into the trunk of the tree and scaling it with a speed that sends Felicity's heart practically surging out of her chest.

"Ellie, be careful," Felicity admonishes, positioning herself at the base of the trunk, fully prepared to attempt to catch the little girl should she fall.

But she doesn't. Ellie, it seems, has her father's grace as she scurries up the tree. Well… thank goodness for that - if she's going to have his activity level, she should definitely have his sure-footedness too.

The chuckle to her side tells her she probably said that bit aloud. But it's true, and for once she's not embarrassed about it. This new… thing with Oliver, it's freeing in a way. She's said precisely what's on her mind more often than not anyhow, but now it doesn't feel so much like verbal floundering.

It feels… normal.

"So," Oliver says wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing a kiss to her hair as Ellie disappears into the fairy castle, closing the hatch behind her, "what was it you didn't want to tell me in front of Ellie?"

The reminder of why she'd practically shoved them out the door makes Felicity stiffen, and she looks up at him with apprehension. She hadn't forgotten about it, not by a longshot - a little hard when the evidence is still in her hands - but saying it out loud… it makes it real.

And right now, away from the house and the harsh dose of reality that comes with being in there, she doesn't want to go back to it. She wants to stay right here, where reality is treehouse castles and the fairies that live in them.

But, it's not like she has much of a choice.

Oliver's staring at her expectantly.

"Not in front of Ellie," she responds, biting her lip as she shakes her head. "In the house." He furrows his brow, not following. "Oliver… it's bugged. The entire house. That's why the wifi is slow. Someone's hijacking your signal to broadcast surveillance."

He freezes, face hardening as he lets the reality of those implications sink in. She sees the second it clicks into place.

"Slade…" he concludes, the same as she had. "He had access, thanks to my mom. He must have planted them that day, when she was showing him the art… He was everywhere, he…" His face visibly pales. "That's how he knew about Ellie, how he knew she was ours, that she was here. How he knew she was in the kitchen without me there."

Felicity's stomach churns at the reminder. She nods. "Yeah."

"Daddy!" Ellie shouts from above, having cracked open a window. "I found a crown in here! I think the Fairy Queen left it!"

"That's great, Ellie-bug!" he shouts back up to her, his voice sounding light, a total contradiction to the look shading his features.

"Oliver…" Felicity starts. "We have Slade captured now, but…"

"But he wasn't working alone," Oliver finishes, swallowing hard as he looks back at her, fear in his eyes. "Isabel knows we have a daughter."

 


  

They don't talk about it, about Isabel knowing about Ellie, or what might happen - no, what will happen. The second the reality of what Felicity had found hit him, he'd shoved it back down, not ready to give it the attention it sorely needed.

He couldn't ignore it forever, he knew that, but it could wait.

And it does.

The afternoon slips away as Ellie holds court in her fairy castle.

And it is Ellie's.

For all that it was Thea's before, it's clearly his daughter's domain now. She still swears she's not a princess - she says she's president because it's only fair that her fairy people get to choose their leader - but she does wear the crown, a dull metallic thing that's been up here at least a decade and has surely seen better days. But it rests atop her golden curls and she holds her head high like it's a priceless heirloom.

In some ways, maybe it is.

Squeezing into the little castle with her is no easy feat. Oliver can't stand inside it and he barely fits through the hatch, but he wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world. She sits atop the carved wooden throne he lovingly crafted a lifetime ago, imaginary fairies surrounding her as she declares Oliver the captain of her knights. And he melts. Every interaction with his future daughter makes him love her just a little more.

He can't - he won't - tear himself away from her, not as long as he can help it, because he is, quite simply, completely entranced.

So is Felicity. She disappears at one point to grab them food, which they eat sprawled out on the floor of the treehouse. Oliver had offered to go, knowing the bloody mess that was still in the kitchen, but the instant Felicity had seen the look on his face at the thought of shoving himself through the hatch again, she'd chuckled, rolling her eyes with an amused, "I'll go."

Luckily, the wifi signal reaches this far into the yard and she spends the time sifting through the data stream, analyzing the hijacked bandwidth, always setting it aside when Ellie directs anything towards her.

After lunch, their daughter proclaims to the pretend fairies that it is National Drink Apple Juice Day, and it's at that point that Oliver discovers very quickly that his daughter is capable of drinking an absurd amount of juice. Another thing he quickly discovers is that, juice or not, that much sugar is a terrible idea, something he learns when it leaves Ellie hyper as hell, speaking exactly as quick as her mother, using her hands for emphasis in a way that makes him think he's looking at a mini-Felicity.

It's as overwhelming as it is endearing.

When she starts spinning in circles, spreading pixie dust around to make her subjects fly, Oliver has to look away. He's dizzy just watching her. And drained. He can spend his evenings fighting assassins and jumping off of rooftops, but just seeing his three year old play make believe for hours on end is enough to make him feel worn out. The full night of sleep - well, full by his standards - and the mini-nap they'd snuck in were doing nothing to help.

How do they do this? How is it even possible for her to have this much energy?

"I told you to water down the juice," Felicity says with a smile, not looking up from her tablet.

"It's fruit," he argues half-heartedly, because her point proves itself as it spins in front of them.

Felicity pauses and looks up from the tablet to him, blinking with raised eyebrows before chancing a glance toward their daughter.

"… and pixie dust for you and pixie dust for you and flyyyyyyyyyyyy…"

"That's what you're going with?" she asks, looking back at him again in well-earned disbelief. "Fruit does that?"

He flinches, grabbing the near-empty bottle of apple juice, studying the label. And wow, it's practically all sugar.

"Maybe we get the kind with no sugar added in the future?" Oliver asks, giving Felicity an apologetic smile.

Felicity grins as she nods. "Yeah, that's probably what we do." She shrugs. "Or, you know, just give her water."

Oliver gives her a tired look, one which only makes her smile wider.

"I like juice!" Ellie announces loudly, as if this is some sort of revelation.

"We got that, Ellie-bug," Oliver tells her.

"I want to have juice all the time. Fairy people, I decide you can all have juice always," she decrees, gesturing across the little room before she starts to spin again.

"Wow," Oliver murmurs as he watches her. Isn't there supposed to be some sort of crash that happens when you inhale that much sugar?

"Yeah," Felicity agrees. "Wow." After a second, she shakes her head, looking back at her tablet. "She's adorable, but I can't watch this." She taps on the screen as she talks. "It's making me nauseous just thinking about spinning like that. It's like watching you zipline through a window or scale a building like a spider monkey." Felicity looks up, and when she finds him already looking at her, Oliver doesn't miss the way her cheeks flush slightly. She points at him. "She gets this from you, you know. I prefer my feet on the ground and a total absence of vertigo. The Hitchcock kind, not the Count kind. Though, actually that would be true too."

Oliver can only smile. In wonder, in amusement… in joy.

Felicity returns it, the flush in her cheeks not going away before she turns back to her tablet.

While he finds it hard to take his attention off his daughter - he doesn't want to miss a thing, not a single damn thing - he finds it equally hard to keep his eyes off Felicity, for a very different reason. He openly stares at her, following her every movement as she works, from the flash of her nail polish to the way she bites her lip to the way her eyes dart over the screen.

There's something about her that draws him in, it always has, from that very first time he saw her talking to his photo in his father's office. But now, with years at his side and thousands of moments between them, it's more. He hadn't known it could be like this, that he could love someone in so many different ways… but he does. And now that he has it, he can't imagine ever settling for anything else. This is it. She's it, for him. He'd know that even without Ellie, he thinks, even if he probably wouldn't have been quite ready to admit it yet - he'd get there, he knows it in his gut.

But Ellie… she forces a lot of issues, in the best possible way.

As Ellie buzzes around the tight space, finding something new to talk about with each fairy she encounters, Felicity stretches her neck to the side in an obvious effort to work out a kink that's undoubtedly formed thanks to hours on end of staring down at the screen on her lap in the cramped confines of a treehouse.

Oliver barely thinks about what he's doing before lifting a hand to knead at the back of her neck.

Felicity groans as his fingers dig in. She stretches her neck forward to encourage him, her shoulders relaxing as she sighs - in delight - and yeah, those noises she makes are definitely encouraging.

His thumb finds a knot of muscle and presses firmly into it.

"Oh, right there," she breathes… and then she full on moans. The noise shoots straight through his body with an intensity that makes his breath catch. "God, you're good at that. How did I not know this? You should use your fingers on me all of the time. I could have been enjoying your hands for years."

The imagery her words bring to mind make him choke on his next breath. He's definitely not envisioning a neck rub now. No, his mind jumps straight back to what they'd started in his room that morning - how she'd felt pressing against him, wrapping her legs around his waist, her hands in his hair, his fingers on her bare skin… Oliver's got entirely too vivid a memory and imagination and it quickly becomes more than a problem when she leans into him, giving him another moan.

It's obvious when her mind catches up with her words because she tenses and her eyes dart to his with more than a little hint of embarrassment. But he's not having that. Not now. They're past that, way past that, and he has zero interest in going back.

"Well," Oliver says, his voice rough. He trails his fingers gently down the ridges of her spine as he stares at her. He watches her pupils widen, not missing the way her lips part for a quick breath. "They're yours now, anytime you'd like."

He's really not talking about neck rubs - at least not entirely - and with the way she inhales sharply and runs her tongue along the ridges of her teeth as she holds his gaze, she clearly knows that.

The pink of her tongue draws his attention to her mouth.

He wants to taste it, to cover her brightly painted lips with his own. He wants to drink in her moans, bury his hands in her hair, pull her close. He wants it all so much his body practically vibrates with it, the air hums, and the entire world suddenly narrows, shifting focus until it's just them, just now…

"Did daddy tickle you?"

Oliver jolts at Ellie's voice, and it doesn't escape his attention that Felicity does too. Both of them were so lost in this thing between them that they'd completely forgotten Ellie was even there, sugar high or not. But Ellie… she's standing there, stock still with her head tilted to the side as she watches them with large curious blue eyes. It's the most he's seen her stand still in hours.

"What?" Oliver asks, swallowing hard because wow, does he need to regain some sense of control over his body at the moment.

"Not everybody likes tickling, daddy," Ellie tells him solemnly.

"I like some kinds of tickling," Felicity mumbles under her breath.

Oliver makes a strangled noise, somewhere between a laugh and a groan that gets stuck in his throat. She's not doing a damn thing to help rein in his body's reaction to her. He shifts awkwardly in an attempt to keep some of his dignity intact in front of his three-year-old daughter and avoid a rather ill-timed discussion on anatomy.

"I'll keep that in mind," Oliver says, and it's his turn to make Felicity choke out a snort.

"Is gramma back yet?" Ellie asks.

Well… that comment sure helps matters. Thank you, Ellie. He glances at his watch - it's later than he'd thought.

"Maybe. If she's not home yet, she should be back any minute," Oliver says. He glances at Felicity. "Did you finish your, uh… project?"

"Sort of," she replies. "I got enough done for now, anyhow." She glances back down at her tablet, which had turned off - how long had he been touching her? "There's no audio, but I know what's being watched."

"Good," he says. He glances at the screen, his stomach sinking when he sees the multiple camera feeds. They're everywhere. "We need to consider if it's a better idea to use the cameras to mislead her or if we're better off just getting rid of them. I want to talk to Digg and Sara before we make any decisions there."

"And your mom," Felicity points out.

Oliver hesitates at that before tilting his head in reluctant concurrence.

"And my mom," he agrees. It's a foreign idea, including her in Arrow-related problems. And, truth be told, he's not really at ease with the notion. But Felicity's right. There's no way to exclude her at this point, especially since it is her home that's currently being watched.

After a moment of quiet, Ellie asks, "Is Raisa gonna be okay? And Uncle Diggle?"

Hesitance is etched in her every feature, her little brow wrinkled in concern, looking way too familiar for his tastes as she waits for an answer. How had he not thought to talk with her about this before?

"Digg's fine, sweetie," Felicity says, setting the tablet aside to pull Ellie onto her lap. "And Raisa just needed to be checked out by a doctor and get a cast for her arm."

"Can I draw a picture on it?" Ellie responds, her eyes bright at the prospect.

"I'm sure she'd love that," Felicity says.

"I could draw flowers! Raisa likes flowers, yellow ones."

"She… does," Oliver acknowledges, memories surfacing of daffodils on the table in the breakfast nook throughout his childhood. "Do you spend a lot of time with Raisa?"

"Sometimes," Ellie shrugs. "When you and momma and Uncle Digg and Uncle Roy are all busy with missions."

The word mission coming off her lips sends him back to the day before, when he'd just found out that Felicity had run into his mother, when he'd rushed over, not sure what he was going to walk into, but finding he didn't care as long as he made sure his family was okay.

"You always kiss us when you get back from a mission."

Oliver glances at Felicity, and he wonders if she's remembering the same thing. When she meets his eyes, he thinks she is.

"I'm glad," Oliver says. He looks at Ellie again, reaching out to tug on one of her wavy curls. "Raisa looked after me when I was growing up, you know."

"I know that, daddy," Ellie says, rolling her eyes. "You say it all the time, because it makes Raisa smile really big. Can I pick her a flower too? Gramma has lots out back. Can I? For Raisa?"

If it were anyone else asking, he knows for a fact that the answer would be a resounding no. But Oliver's pretty sure that Ellie could do absolutely anything and his mother would still smile on approvingly. As someone who got away with entirely too much growing up, he's well aware he's going to have to watch that.

But not when it comes to picking flowers for Raisa.

"I think that's a great idea," Oliver agrees.

"I will pick her the very best flower ever," Ellie announces, buzzing with excitement. "And then I'll draw it on her cast too. It'll make her so happy she won't even feel her owie anymore!"

"That would be some flower," Felicity says slightly louder than she'd probably intended. Ellie's brow furrows at her tone, looking up at her mother in slightly distraught concern. Oliver shoots Felicity a look and she instantly plasters a too large smile on her face as she adds, "Which is a thing we will definitely find!"

Ellie brightens immediately at that while Oliver just shakes his head in Felicity's direction.

"We need to find one the fairies sprinkled with pixie dust, they'll help us find the best one!" Ellie says, scrambling out of Felicity's lap towards the hatch. "Come on, daddy!"

Oliver grabs her around the waist before she gets too far, tugging her back. "How about you let me go down first. Just to be on the safe side."

"I'm a very good climber, daddy," she tells him. "Uncle Roy says I am a monkey, even."

"Like father, like daughter," Felicity whispers and he shoots her a small smile.

"I know you are, Ellie-bug," he says, remembering the way she'd climbed up the tree like it was nothing. They're eye-level by necessity, thanks to the roof he's really wishing he'd made taller, but it works well now because Ellie can see the earnest look in his eyes. "But… call it a dad thing, okay? It'll just make me feel better."

It's a little scary how mind-numbingly fast he's become attached to that title, how right it feels, the bond that's freshly forged but solid with this little girl standing in front of him.

"Okay," she relents. "If it'll make you feel better. I don't want you to be sad."

"I'm not sad, honey, just… a little worried," he tells her. "It's a very long way down, I don't want you to break anything."

"I don't fall," Ellie tells him matter-of-factly. "I didn't even fall when the tree broke, when Sara fell and she hurt her ankle. Remember, you told me you were very proud of me for holding onto the tree branch, for being such a good climber."

Oliver closes his eyes at the imagined fear of hearing a tree branch break, of hearing someone's scream of pain, and knowing his daughter was somewhere he couldn't help her… he can't imagine the actual fear.

Yeah, he's definitely going down first.

Ellie pats his arm. "But you go first so you won't worry so much."

She says it so earnestly Oliver can't help but chuckle.

"Thank you," he tells her, kissing her on the forehead.

From the corner of his eye he can see Felicity watching them, blatant affection on her face. It's a look he's quickly becoming familiar with because it's the same one on his face when he watches her with Ellie - he knows he loves them on their own, but together? It's so, so much better.

Their eyes meet for only a moment over Ellie's head, but it's enough to leave him feeling the strength of this thing between them.

It hits him then: this is the last woman he'll ever love. He knows it with a bone-deep certainty he's never felt in his life. Once upon a time, that notion would have sent him running. Not now. Not with her. With her, he wants to hold on and never let go.

"See you on solid ground," Felicity says, reminding him that he's meant to be leading them out of the clubhouse, and with a small grin, he does.

The second his feet are on the ground, Ellie's quick to follow, and true to her word, she doesn't slip. She's actually absurdly sure-footed and incredibly fast, scurrying down the tree more like a squirrel than a monkey, barely giving him a chance to snatch her off the tree before she's on the ground, heading towards the garden.

Felicity, on the other hand, misses a rung and ends up tumbling with a little shriek. For the split second she's in the air, Oliver swears he sees her bracing herself, preparing to land on the ground with a solid thud that would probably bruise the hell out of her ass, but he doesn't let it happen.

He'd be lying if he said he didn't fully enjoy every second of her landing safely in his waiting arms.

"You caught me," Felicity gasps. Her glasses are off-center, her lips parted in surprise. "You actually caught me."

Oliver chuckles, setting her on her feet but not letting her go - her disbelief might have been slightly more insulting if it weren't so incredibly endearing.

"I will always catch you, Felicity," he replies. He fixes her glasses, brushing stray strands of hair off her cheek. He lets his hand linger. "Always."

"You know," she whispers, a little breathless, holding his gaze, "I think you might."

Oliver smiles, his thumb brushing over her cheek. Felicity's throat moves as she swallows, her eyes darting down to his lips for a split second. He doesn't have to think about it, or wonder if he should or shouldn't, not anymore. Oliver cups her cheek, tilting her face up towards his as he leans in.

His lips brush against hers, but he doesn't go all the way, leaving that…

Felicity closes the distance, kissing him with everything she has, and he returns it, sliding his arm around her waist, his hand slipping into her hair as she grips his shirt, pulling him closer.

He still can't wrap his mind around how much has happened, how much still needs to happen, but this, in this moment, none of it matters - as long as she's there, he'll be okay; they'll be okay. He knows it, just as certainly as he knows that she's it, she's the one.

"I found the flower, momma!" Ellie shrieks in the distance, pulling them apart.

"Flower duty," Felicity whispers, making Oliver grin. She kisses him once, twice… and a few more times before pulling back. "Let's go."

"Let's go," Oliver agrees.

They turn to the garden, Oliver slipping his arm around her shoulders as she wraps her arm around his waist, both of them finding Ellie's blonde head as she bounces through the foliage… just in time to see Moira Queen stepping out of the house, raising her hand in greeting.

Chapter Text

"We need to talk."

They say it at the same time, the instant Moira reaches him where he stands at the entrance to her coveted garden.

When his mother had seen he and Felicity weren't going to meet her at the house, she'd cocked her head in question before stepping out to join them. It was about then that Ellie had popped out of the garden, talking rapidly about a purple flower that she just had to show Felicity, and at that, she'd dragged her mother down the floral pathway. Felicity had chanced a glance back at him, and he must have been smiling because her face split into a grin before Ellie abruptly stopped, yanking Felicity down to her level. Oliver had watched them, for a split second, as Ellie had pointed at the flower. Felicity had gently grabbed her hand, showing Ellie how to touch the flowers without hurting them, leading to a picturesque moment of mother and daughter gently handling the flowers, alternating between rubbing petals between their fingers and looking up which was which.

The sound of Moira's soft tread in the grass had pulled him back to the harsh reality that he'd managed to escape again for a few hours in the treehouse.

"Is something wrong?" Moira asks, her eyes finding Ellie and Felicity. She barely reacts to them actually being in there - Oliver remembers quite well the last time he and Thea had snuck into the garden, their mother had not approved in the least. "Is it Ellie?"

"No," Oliver replies, shaking his head. "She's fine. Well, as fine as she can be considering the morning she had. We took a little nap and she…" He pauses, remembering his daughter's quiet, 'I had scary dreams.' Her voice had been so tiny, so scared, and his only desire had been to scoop her up and never let her go, especially when she started asking him about the bad men trying to get her. His chest tightens all over again, but he forces himself to take a breath. "She had some nightmares."

"Oh, the poor thing," Moira sighs, shaking her head. Her hair is pulled back in a neat ponytail, her makeup once more impeccable and her clothes clean and straight. The white bandage hiding the large gash on her forehead almost looks like it belongs there with how well his mother carries herself. Her eyes meet his again. "If they're anything like when you and Thea had nightmares…"

He knows if he had the ability to erase those nightmares from Ellie's mind, he would in a heartbeat, and he reads the same steadfastness in his mother's voice.

Like she knows what he's thinking, a serene smile crosses her lips and she clasps his arm in understanding.

His eyes find the bandage again. "Are you okay? Is Raisa?"

"I'm alright and she's fine, just a broken wrist. She does have a nasty bump on the back of her head. The doctors recommended she stay overnight for observation. I figured that was a wonderful idea for many reasons, namely getting that kitchen cleaned up."

"Good," Oliver says with a nod. "I'm glad."

"So, if it's not Ellie that we need to talk about," Moira says, "what is it?"

The idea of talking to his mother about Arrow business still makes his skin itch. The fact that she knows, that she has known for quite some time, doesn't change the fact that she's his mother, and that she herself has been at the receiving end of Arrow business on more than one occasion. Is that why he's hesitating, why he doesn't want to tell her what's going on? Or is it because he still wants to protect her?

Either way, he knows he can't keep this particular thing from her - it's her house that's bugged.

"It's Isabel," Oliver says.

Moira's face instantly shutters as she draws her shoulders back. Her eyes fly to where Ellie and Felicity are still crouched before looking back at him.

"What about her?" she asks crisply, all traces of her earlier lightness completely absent.

"She was working with Slade," he says, and a dark frown mars his mother's face. "She was part of his plan to take everything away from me, the company part at least."

"Yes, well," her mother says, nodding her head slightly as she purses her lips. "That's not surprising in the least, she's always been a… she's always been conniving." His eyebrows go up when she stops herself. "Well, that's beside the point. With Mr. Wilson out of commission, I imagine she's lost a lot of the support he was giving her. Which might be very helpful actually."

Oliver furrows his brow. "Helpful with what?"

"I got a call from Ned Foster," Moira says, and for the first time Oliver notices the folded up paper in her hand. "While I was at the hospital."

His stomach sinks when he realizes what she's holding. He'd completely forgotten.

"The papers for the trust."

"Yes," Moira replies. "It'd slipped my mind as well, in all the…" She waves at Ellie, who now has a handful of picked flowers. Instead of making her cringe, it only makes her face soften. "Understandably, of course. Still." She looks back at Oliver. "It doesn't change that we have a limited window to secure what little assets we still have if we're going to get the company back. And considering what you just told me about Ms. Rochev, I'd say it's more important now than ever to make sure we don't let her completely wipe us out, which she's already well on her way towards doing. Ned told me she's already taking the next steps towards taking the house, as well as the numerous properties we still hold in the city. Including Verdant."

He already knows where she's going with this.

"Thea."

"Thea," Moira concurs. "I know I asked you to talk with her, but since you are more than a little preoccupied at the moment…" Oliver closes his eyes - that's a slight understatement. "I stopped by Ned's office for another copy of the papers and I went to the club."

His eyes fly open at that. "And?"

Moira's watching Ellie and Felicity again. "And she wouldn't even see me." Her voice is remote, like she's talking about tax returns and not the fact that her daughter is freezing her out. It doesn't matter that he can't hear it, he can see it in her eyes, and he knows that it's cutting her deeply. Moira presses her lips together. "She had one of her employees kindly tell me to leave."

Oliver doesn't know what to say. He's not surprised in the least, because he'd been right there himself just a few days ago. Ellie not only changed what's happening between him and Felicity, but also between him and his mother. But just because her appearance made some of the issues that'd existed between them seem incredibly benign, it doesn't change that they were there in the first place.

"Which is why I need you to go to Verdant and get her to sign these papers."

"What?" His eyes go out to the garden. "I can't go."

"I understand what I'm asking, Oliver," Moira says, turning to him. "But we're running out of time."

"I'm not leaving my daughter here," Oliver replies, shaking his head. Like hell he's leaving either Felicity or Ellie there without him - Slade may have been the biggest threat, but he definitely isn't the only one. "Especially not with…"

She can't possibly appreciate the gravity of what she's asking.

"Not with what?" Moira asks, frowning.

Oliver sighs. "Isabel working with Slade wasn't the only thing I wanted to tell you. When Slade was over here, before… everything that happened, he planted cameras all over the house."

Moira's face shutters again, her eyes narrowing. "Excuse me?"

"When you had Thea give him a tour of the art in the house, he used that to plant cameras everywhere."

"How…?"

"Felicity discovered they're using our wifi signal to broadcast the surveillance. He's been watching the house ever since that day."

Moira lets out a tiny, shaky breath, clenching her jaw in a disbelief that instantly morphs into a resolved anger that hardens the lines of her body. He can see the wheels turning in her head as she processes this, racing through the different possibilities and ways to handle it.

"That's how Slade knew," she says. She glances back into the garden. "About Ellie, about where we were in the house, about… everything."

"Yeah."

"And Isabel," Moira continues, nodding. "She knows about Ellie."

"Which is why I'm not leaving her here," Oliver says. "From what we can tell, there aren't cameras in most of the bedrooms, they're mostly in the main areas of the house. We'll handle Isabel, but I don't want to lose the little ground we still have."

"Using the cameras to your advantage," Moira fills in, nodding, and it's almost a little chilling how quickly she's agreeing to the plan, like she'd already considered it herself. "Although what advantage is the question."

"I'm still putting that part together," Oliver admits. "But it's not just the company I'm worried about, it's whatever else Slade had planned. It isn't like him to have one course of action, I wouldn't be surprised if he had thirty contingency plans waiting in the wings, or if the only reason he was comfortable attacking this morning was because he already had something else in the works."

"Then let's handle things one at a time," Moira suggests. She hands him the papers and Oliver fights the urge to roll his eyes. "Go to Verdant, get Thea to sign these papers, at least give us a way to fight back on the company front."

"Mom, I really don't care…"

"You will, Oliver," Moira interrupts. "And I'm not asking you to handle all of this, just get Thea to sign the papers so we can secure what assets we do have left, and then leave the rest to me. I'll handle Isabel when it comes to Queen Consolidated, you handle her where Mr. Wilson is concerned."

Oliver frowns, not liking the ominous feel behind her words. "What are you going to do? The board voted me out as CEO, and she's been systematically destroying the holdings we did have in the company."

"Don't worry about it," Moira says, squeezing his arm. "Maybe you can take Ellie and Felicity with you."

Oliver closes his eyes, shaking his head, not even willing to entertain that idea because the last thing they need to be doing is parading Ellie around town, and that doesn't even touch on what would happen when Thea saw Ellie.

The thought makes his lungs feel like they're full of concrete.

He so, so, so doesn't want to deal with this right now, especially since he knows his mother is well aware of what she's doing and what she's asking of him.

"Mom…"

"Take Ellie and Felicity with you where?" Felicity asks just as she and Ellie are leaving the garden.

"Gramma, look at the flowers I picked for Raisa!" Ellie says, running up to Moira with an armful of flowers. "I picked all yellow ones because they're her favorite."

"I hope it's okay, Mrs. Queen," Felicity says, sidling up next to Oliver as Moira bends over to examine Ellie's bouquet. Oliver wraps his arm around her waist without even thinking. "It was one flower and then two and suddenly…" She illustrates a small explosion with her hand, the other still holding her tablet. "Flower-splosion."

"Felicity, I asked you to call me Moira," his mother responds, giving her a warm smile. Felicity jerks slightly, not responding - he can just hear her thoughts on that, something like, 'Oh no, that won't be happening for at least another twenty years.' He squeezes her side comfortingly and she glances up at him as Moira looks back at Ellie's flowers. "These are very beautiful, Ellie. I'm sure Raisa will love them."

"Yeah?" Ellie asks.

"Very much," Moira says. "We should get them in some water. How about I get a vase and meet you in the sunroom?"

"I can get the vase," Ellie volunteers.

"Oh no, dear," Moira says, shaking her head. The vases are kept in a pantry right off the kitchen - a wave of gratitude washes through Oliver at that; the last thing Ellie needs to see is the mess in there, and he really doubts she'd want to anyway. "How about you take those to the sunroom and I'll meet you there. They'll need all the sun they can get until Raisa's back."

"Is Raisa gonna be okay?" Ellie asks.

"She will be just fine," Moira replies, brushing her hand over Ellie's head, taming some of her wild hair. "And these flowers are just what she will need."

Ellie's face brightens with a huge smile that makes all three of them melt.

Moira stands, her eyes finding Oliver. She hands him the papers. "I'll have the car pulled around to the front."

 


 

 

"This is a bad idea."

"Yeah," is all Oliver can respond with. He is well aware, just as aware as he's been the last several times Felicity said it.

"But it's the only idea," Felicity continues, nodding. "And I know that. I'm glad, actually, because this is important, really important."

There hadn't even been a question of what to do with Ellie - the second Felicity had heard what Moira was suggesting, she'd agreed to going with, despite the obvious reservations about people seeing Ellie. The chances were slim to none, and even though they didn't know how Thea would react to the news about her future niece, there was no way he was leaving them behind.

"It wasn't the only idea," Oliver replies, reaching over Ellie to take Felicity's hand. "This could've waited until we figured… other things out."

"No," Felicity counters, looking at him as she laces her fingers through his. "Your mom is right, you can't lose everything your family's worked for."

Oliver smiles at her before glancing down at Ellie, who's strapped in between them in the back of the town car, her eyes glued to Felicity's tablet where the first ever Rascal the Raccoon episode is playing.

"The question is how much am I risking in the meantime," he says softly, brushing his free hand over her hair.

Ellie barely reacts but to bite her bottom lip, not looking up once. The look of glee on her face when Felicity handed her the tablet with the few episodes that'd been made so far had been enough to make his heart trip all over itself. It'd helped ground her, gave her something to hold onto until she was back in her own time - god, he couldn't even think about that, he didn't want to - settled him as much as it settled her. He was damned thankful that the production company had some of the episodes, he wasn't sure what they would've done if they'd had to look their daughter in the eye and confirm that her world was definitely not what it was supposed to be.

Knowing and understanding were two very different things, especially for a three year old.

"We got this," Felicity says softly, pulling his eyes back to her. She nods, smiling encouragingly and he returns it, believing her. She takes a deep breath before asking, "What are you going to tell Thea?"

He has absolutely no idea.

Oliver would be lying to himself if he said he wasn't grateful that he hadn't had to fess up earlier, when Thea had been at the house. He hadn't been prepared for it, not in the least, and when his mother had suggested it - no, she'd practically demanded it - his stomach had slammed into the ground.

The one thing he'd always been able to depend on was the knowledge that he was protecting his family from the dangers in his life, from the danger he'd brought back with him, the danger he kept wrapped around him like a morbid cloak. He didn't want them to know because knowing meant they were vulnerable, open to attack, and the idea of losing them… he couldn't fathom it.

And yet now here he was - his mother already knew, and it was clear from what Ellie told them about the future that they don't exactly hide what they do at night.

Still… he has no idea how to even broach the subject, let alone explain it to Thea in a way that isn't completely and totally insane. He not only lied to her face about her parentage, but he'd also been lying about being the Arrow.

And on top of that, he has a daughter from the future with Felicity, who at this point is just his EA, according to what Thea knows.

So no, he has absolutely no idea.

Like she can read the turmoil twisting and turning in him, Felicity squeezes his hand, just as they pull up to the club. Ellie finally looks up, craning her neck to look outside.

It's deserted. The driver gets out, walking to the passenger side to let Felicity out first but Oliver doesn't let go of her hand.

"Wait for a second, okay?" he asks. She doesn't hesitate, just nodding and Oliver leans down, pressing a kiss to the top of Ellie's head before he gets out of the car. He nods to Frank, their driver, with a quick, "Hold on," as he steps out.

Oliver hears Ellie asking, "Where are we, momma?" and he doesn't wait to hear what Felicity says before he's shutting the door, his eyes scanning the area. He does a quick recon, checking every nook and cranny, dark crevice and potential lookout spots.

There's no one in sight at this time of day, even in the slightly gentrified part of the Glades. The club won't be drawing people for hours yet and the few less savory elements who might dare to cause trouble in the thick of the Arrow's turf won't come out until well after dark. It's as clear as Oliver could possibly hope for, with no movement at all beyond an alley cat clawing it's way through the remains of someone's lunch.

He wants to tell Felicity to stay in the car with Ellie, to let him go inside and handle Thea, but he knows she won't go for that, just as much as she probably wouldn't go for staying downstairs either.

With one more look around, he smiles at Frank who nods and opens the door for Felicity.

"We're seeing Aunt Thea?" Ellie instantly asks, practically launching herself out of the car.

Oliver barely has time to duck down and catch her, his eyes finding Felicity's. She looks a little guilty, shrugging with a mouthed, 'Sorry,' because they hadn't exactly discussed the ins and outs of what they were doing there. The realization that he would have to tell Thea everything makes his heart take off.

Hauling his daughter up into his arms, Oliver says, "Yeah, sweetie. But daddy has to talk to her first, okay?"

Ellie nods with an almost contagious excitement as he offers Felicity his hand, helping her climb out of the car. She smiles at Frank with a, "Thank you," as he closes the door behind her. Felicity's other hand lands on Ellie's back and Oliver doesn't realize he's gripping her so tightly until she holds him back with just as much force.

Oliver shoots her an apologetic look.

"Is Uncle Roy here too?" Ellie asks. "Can we take him back to gramma's house, so he can play the dragon while we defend our castle, daddy?"

"Uh…" He hadn't even thought about Roy, much less Uncle Roy. Despite the guilt he still felt about sending him away, he's glad he did - he's sure one day he learns to trust Roy implicitly, if he lets him be around his kid, but right now, with the mirakuru in his system, there's absolutely no way he'd let her near him. "He's not here right now."

"Where is he?" Ellie asks.

"He's… at… work," Felicity fills in haltingly. She smiles, rubbing Ellie's back. "It's the middle of the day, sweetie, he's working right now."

"Oh. Okay," the little girl says, her shoulders falling slightly. "But we're still seeing Aunt Thea, right?"

With a deep breath, Oliver says, "Yep."

But his feet don't move.

"Any second now," Felicity says after a moment and Oliver glances at her. She gives him a small smile, and after a moment, he returns it.

"Yeah," Oliver says, pressing a kiss to Ellie's temple. His daughter makes a little sound and turns to look at him, her hand landing on his cheek with a, "Daddy, your beard is too sharp again," which makes him chuckle, centering him.

"Sorry, Ellie-bug," he says. Felicity's fingers squeezes his and he glances at her one more time before saying, "Here we go." And then he takes them inside, hopefully to fix the rifts with the rest of his family.

The club is quiet when Oliver opens the door. Felicity enters before him, the sound of her heels the only noise as he follows her in. Setting Ellie down, Oliver's hand finds Felicity's back as he says, "She's probably upstairs."

"We'll wait down here," Felicity says.

Oliver manages a tight smile before he goes upstairs.

He hears the sound of glass bottles on metal shelves before anything else. Oliver pokes his head into the upstairs office, instantly finding his sister where she's stacking colored mix on the shelves. Her shoulders are tight, her movements almost robotic as she moves with a practiced precision that lets her work without having to think about it.

She doesn't indicate she sees or hears him, but he's pretty sure she's very aware he's there.

"Hey."

Thea doesn't respond, and he almost turns around, letting her be.

Instead, Oliver steps in, digging his hands into his pockets. He passes the window overlooking the club and he glances out, seeing Felicity lifting Ellie onto one of the barstools, holding onto her hand as their daughter rocks a little, making it spin.

It grounds him, giving him the courage to keep going.

"Thea…"

"I thought I was being pretty clear earlier when I didn't want to talk to mom," she says, dropping one of the bottles particularly hard. She looks at him, her face hard. The instant she gets a good look at him, she hesitates, looking like she wants to ask about the bruises littering his face and neck, but she doesn't. Instead she says, "Go away, Ollie."

He hesitates for a split second, almost taking her up on that. It'd be so much easier, to give her the space she clearly craves, but they don't have that luxury and if he's going to do this, he needs to just do it.

"I can't do that. I need to talk to you about some things."

"Oh," Thea scoffs. "Now he wants to talk to me." She picks up another bottle, shooting him a scathing look as she drops the bottle on the shelf without looking. "How convenient."

"I deserve that," Oliver concedes and Thea rolls her eyes, but he doesn't relent. "Thea, please, I'm trying here." If he hadn't been watching her, he wouldn't have caught it - she pauses, for a split second, before she continues putting the bottles on the shelf. It's not much, but it's enough, more than enough. She doesn't stop stocking. "Thea. Please."

And then… she stops.

Thea stares at the shelf, chewing on the inside of her bottom lip before she looks at him.

She's angry, he can see it in her eyes, but he also catches something else… he's not sure what it is, but he takes it as a good sign.

"Will you… sit down?" he asks. At that, her eyes instantly shutter. "Please."

After a long minute, Thea finally lets out a heavy sigh and moves to her desk, pulling her chair out abruptly. Oliver gives her a wide berth, pulling out another chair, sliding it a little closer but still giving her her space. The second they're settled, he realizes how close they are to the window - he didn't even think of that. What if she looks down and sees Felicity and Ellie? All the more reason to get talking.

"There's something I want to tell you, about me," Oliver starts. "But, um… I have something else to talk to you about too. We had that meeting with Ned Foster the other day…" She lets out an aggravated little noise, rolling her eyes again, and Oliver sighs, forging ahead before he loses the opportunity. "I know you're mad, Thea, but we may have found a way out of this financial mess where we aren't going to lose everything." He pulls out the piece of paper, opening it up. "Mom and I both signed, we just need your signature… and hopefully we can stop Isabel from ruining us."

"After you let her ruin us, you mean?" Thea replies, the words cold.

Oliver bites his lip, the familiar shame rolling through him. He gives her a short nod. "Yeah."

"That's what you wanted to talk about?" Thea asks, reaching forward to snatch the paper from his hands. She glances at it, her eyebrows going up in cool detachment. "It says Thea Queen here. Who's she?"

"That's you, Speedy," Oliver replies instantly.

"Ha," Thea says. "No. It's not. Robert Queen wasn't my father." The words hurt more than he could have ever imagined. "Malcolm Merlyn is."

"Thea…"

"Thea Merlyn," she continues. "Kinda has a nice ring to it."

"Meryln's your biological father," Oliver argues, "but Dad raised you."

"Only because he didn't know I wasn't his," Thea responds, the words coated in venom. "Mom lied to him, and she lied to me… and so did you, Ollie."

"I know," he replies, "I'm trying to make it better."

"There's no making this better," Thea retorts. She looks back at the paper, shaking her head before meeting his eyes again. "How about you bring this back when it has the right name on it."

"That is your name." She rolls her eyes again, moving to crumple the paper but Oliver stops her, his hands covering hers. "Thea, Dad loved you. And so do I. I'm still your brother."

"No," Thea says, "you're not. You're my half-brother, and you know who else was my half-brother? Tommy. Tommy… who I tried to kiss." She laughs, yanking her hands back. "I tried to kiss my half-brother, before my real father killed him! That's how screwed up I am!" She throws the papers on the desk. "And you know the sad part, I was actually starting to be in a really good place. I had the club, I had Roy, and I had a brother who wasn't lying to me. For the first time in my crazy life, everything didn't seem so completely and totally messed up."

Oliver stares at her, his heart breaking because she's right - and how much of that was because of him? And here he is, trying to take away more of that, trying to destroy more of her life? He'd helped build some of those lies, and even though he did it to protect her, he knew she wouldn't see it that way.

"I thought I was going to be okay…" Thea shakes her head. "I'm so stupid."

"You're not stupid," he manages but Thea cuts him off.

"No, what I am is the daughter of two mass murderers." The words sting, because he's a murderer. He's killed… but he's changed. He's changed. "Not one, but two. So let's face it, Ollie, I was never going to be okay. It's not in my genes."

Oliver shakes his head. "No, no, it's not. That's crap. You're better, than both of them. You can choose to be better than both of them, there's always a choice."

"Yeah, well, it's not looking like that's the case," Thea says and the slice through him. She moves to stand up before pausing, looking back at him. "Was that why you and mom came by? To get me to sign some stupid papers to protect your money?"

"Thea, that's not…"

"No, it's fine," Thea says, grabbing the papers and a pen. She signs them in a jerky motion, practically tearing through the page before shoving them at him. "Here, it's all yours." He tries to take her hand, but she yanks it back, dropping the pen as she says, her voice taut with resentment, "And just so you know, that's the last thing I'm signing as Thea Queen."

"Thea, please…"

Oliver's shoulders drop as she stands. He bows his head and it takes him too long to realize that she's not going back towards the shelves to stock more bottles, she's heading out of the office.

He shoots up out of the chair so fast it knocks it back but he's too late. Thea's already reached the stairs and he hears Ellie before he can say anything.

"Aunt Thea!"

Oliver leaves the office just as Ellie starts running up the stairs towards a stock-still Thea.

He doesn't have to see her face to know she's shocked, he can see it in the fine lines of her body as she grips the railing of the stairs, staring at the little human racing up towards her. She doesn't do anything as Ellie throws herself at her, hugging her legs, nearly knocking her backwards. If Oliver hadn't been there, she might have tumbled back, but his hand lands on her back steadying her as Thea's hands naturally fall around the blonde girl wrapped around her.

Ellie doesn't give either of them a chance to fill the painful void between them as she starts speaking, "Did daddy tell you about the pillow castle we built this morning? It's almost as good as the one you and I made last time, remember when we made it? When Uncle Roy tried to break it down but he couldn't get it because it was dragon-proof."

"Thea," Oliver starts. He can feel her trembling as she stares at Ellie. "Thea, sit down."

"And did daddy tell you about his missions?" Ellie continues, blissfully oblivious to the turmoil around her, too caught up in the excitement of seeing her aunt. "Momma said he was telling you about the missions, but then I told her you already know about the missions because you shoot arrows too, and you said I'll be better than both of you one day. Daddy didn't like that, he was grumpy after you said that, remember? And you took me outside and showed me…"

Her words are throwing him for a tailspin, he can't even wrap his mind around half of what she's saying, and he can only imagine what it's like for Thea. Oliver can't let himself concentrate on the words flying from his daughter's mouth, because if he does he might freak out - Thea shooting arrows, already knowing about his "missions," which means she knows in the future - and instead he looks at his sister.

She's pale, dangerously pale, her jaw hanging open as she stares uncomprehendingly at the babbling three-year-old attached to her leg.

"Ellie," Felicity says sharply, cutting her off. None of them had noticed her racing up the steps until she grabbed Ellie, pulling her away from Thea. His sister's eyes follow the movements, moving up to meet Felicity's. She's looking between him and Thea like she's waiting for something huge to happen. Felicity picks Ellie up as she looks at him. "You didn't…?"

"What the hell is going on?" Thea asks, her voice thin. She looks at Oliver, and his heart breaks all over again when he sees the tears in her eyes… but it's not the tears shimmering at him that sends his heart dropping, it's the betrayal and confusion and anger. "Arrows? Missions?"

"Thea…"

"No, Ollie, don't… don't feed me more lies, damn it!" she snaps, jerking away from his touch.

Oliver lets his hand drop, his eyes flying to Ellie and Felicity for a moment. His mouth goes dry when he sees the concern on Felicity's face and the wide-eyed confusion on Ellie's.

This was a bad idea, a very, very bad idea. He'd known it, the second his mother had wanted Ellie to meet Thea, he'd known it, but he'd also let himself hope…

He'd been wrong.

"Who is this?" Thea asks. She looks at Felicity. "And who are you, I don't… don't you work for him?"

"Well… not anymore," Felicity replies lamely, cradling Ellie closer to her chest. "It's a little complicated."

"Complicated?" Thea repeats incredulously, turning fiery eyes on Oliver. "Are you…?"

Oliver suddenly forgets how to speak as she stares at him with expectation, expecting him to fess up, to tell her everything… but he can't make his tongue work, he can't form the words. For the first time in his life, he finds himself shrinking under her gaze. She's suddenly looking at him in a new light, seeing him differently… and she doesn't like what she sees.

"Are you the Arrow?" Thea asks, the words coming out in a distressed rush.

The silence is so heavy it feels like a physical weight wrapping around all of them. Thea doesn't move, waiting, and he finally - finally - gives her a nod, a tiny nod, and whispers, "Yeah."

An incredulous laugh falls from her lips as she shakes her head. "Oh my god."

She's shaking even worse now, and Oliver almost reaches for her again, wanting to comfort her, but he knows it will only make things worse. Thea's eyes move back to Felicity and finally Ellie, who is looking at Thea with fear now - fear of the unknown, fear that this isn't her Aunt Thea.

"And you have a daughter," Thea says, her voice sharpening. "I have a niece I didn't even know about, how could you…?" She's speechless, her jaw moving to come up with something, but there's nothing.

"I can explain," Oliver starts.

Thea gives him a short, sharp laugh, cutting him off. She holds her hand up to him and when he meets her gaze, he knows there's no explaining, there's no coming back from this.

It's too much, all too much at once, and he watches his sister pull away from him completely.

She doesn't say anything else, there's nothing left to say… with a disbelieving, stuttered breath, Thea pushes past him and Felicity, practically running down the stairs and leaving the club in a giant burst that sends the door slamming into the wall.

Oliver closes his eyes as Felicity whispers his name.

God, he'd thought things were bad before… he'd thought he couldn't push her further away than he had, that he couldn't possibly make things worse.

"Did I say something bad?" Ellie asks, her voice so small that it cuts right through everything that just happened, pulling him back to her, to Felicity. "Did I make Aunt Thea mad?"

"No, sweetie," Felicity says, her hand finding the back of Ellie's head. "No, no, that wasn't you. Aunt Thea's just… having a bad day, that's all."

"You didn't do anything, Ellie," Oliver says, taking the few steps still separating them in halting movements. He covers Felicity's hand on the back of Ellie's head, taking strength from both of them to push what'd just happened with Thea down - push the fear that he'd just lost his sister for good down, the shame and guilt, the worry… he pushes it all down, concentrating on his daughter. "It wasn't you."

Ellie doesn't look entirely convinced and Oliver forces himself to smile. Ellie instinctively returns it, and he lets the sight of her little smile comfort him.

And then he looks at Felicity.

"Are you okay?" she whispers.

Oliver nods, but they both know he's lying.

He doesn't get the chance to elaborate on it though as his phone rings, vibrating in his pocket. With a shaking hand, Oliver digs it out of his pocket, knowing instantly if it's his mother he won't have the strength to talk to her at the moment - yeah, he got the papers signed, but the cost of it had been too much, too damn high; he doesn't care about the company that much to lose his sister - but it's not her.

Oliver picks it up with a quiet, "John?"

"Turn on the news."

He closes his eyes, bowing his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. "What?"

"The news, Oliver, turn on the news. Now."

"What's wrong?"

"You have to see it to believe it, man."

"What's the matter?" Felicity asks.

"I don't know," Oliver replies, moving around her, jogging down the rest of the stairs. He goes behind the bar, grabbing the remote for the television and turns it on. He goes to the local news, asking Diggle, "Which…?"

But he finds it, and the instant he sees it, everything in him freezes.

"Oh no," Felicity whispers behind him.

All three of them are on the screen in still-shots, from outside the club - they're standing beside the town car, Oliver and Felicity holding hands, and Ellie's in Oliver's arms. There's several shots of them talking, of Oliver looking at Felicity in a way that he most definitely should not be looking at her and then there's one of him kissing Ellie's head, in what can only be described as fatherly, and Ellie looks completely content, like a toddler who knows she's safe with her parents.

The news anchor is talking, saying something, but all he sees are the words across the bottom of the screen, "Oliver Queen's Secret Family?" and underneath it is a continual trail of words, talking about secret relations with his executive assistant, what Felicity Smoak wants from the Queen family, and speculation about Oliver's injuries.

"Oh no," Felicity whispers again, like it's the only thing she can whisper. "Oh no."

Chapter Text

He hadn't seen anyone. He hadn't seen anyone. For a moment that's the only thought circling around his head. It doesn't make sense. There's no way a reporter could have evaded his attention and snapped pictures of Oliver with his daughter without him noticing. It's just not possible.

But, the stills fading into each other on the television screen tell him otherwise. There are pictures of all of them. Of him. Of Felicity… Of Ellie.

An irrational swell of anger fills his chest and he makes a tight fist, clenching his jaw so hard that his teeth grind together. The sight of her beautiful, guileless little face looking up at him in one of those shots, her hair shining in the sunlight - she looks so much like Felicity in that moment - makes his chest hurt. She's completely oblivious to the vultures invading their privacy.

"Digg, I'm gonna have to call you back," Oliver says, his words cutting the silence into ribbons. He ends the call, not waiting for a response, his eyes still glued to the screen, his hand falling to his side. The scene shifts before him and he stops breathing.

"Oliver," Felicity says in a hushed, strained voice, her hand flying out until she finds him. Her fingers grip his forearm tightly, nails biting little half-moon marks into his skin. But she isn't looking at him. No, she's staring up at the television too, the pictures having switched from the photos of his family to a live feed from Blood's campaign office.

It doesn't take a genius to root out the source of her redoubled nerves.

Blood himself is front and center - he's blatantly questioning the Queens' family values in a way that makes Oliver want to violently prevent him from speaking ever again - and a few steps behind him, barely inside the frame of camera, is a smirking, haughty Isabel.

The dots connect with blinding clarity. Isabel, this is all Isabel. She saw them on the cameras at the manor, she knows about Ellie. Oliver's stomach twists, the realization settling in his bones. She's Slade's backup plan, and while he doesn't fully know what that encompasses yet, it obviously includes using Blood to drag his family's name through the mud and turning the public eye on all of them.

On his daughter.

Isabel is more than aware of the feeding frenzy this is going to create, the spotlight it's going to shine on all of the Queens. And Felicity.

His hands are shaking as he shoves his phone in his pocket. Oliver turns, capturing Felicity's hand.

"We have to get out of here," he says, eyes instantly finding Ellie. She's staring at the screen, her brow furrowed in confusion. Oliver looks at Felicity. "If Slade knew where our base of operations was, we have to assume Isabel does too."

"Why were we on tv?" Ellie asks with a curious quirk of her head. "How'd we get there, momma? Is it the same way Rascal gets there?"

Her intelligent, inquisitive eyes light up as she asks her questions and something about that sweetly naive line of questions drives home his intense need to protect her. From Isabel and Slade's plans. From the media. From everything. He was supposed to keep her safe and all he'd done so far was put her life in danger in ways he couldn't have even imagined. He should have left her at the manor or found a safehouse. Or, at the very least, kept her more hidden… but the thought of leaving her anywhere he couldn't find her - couldn't see her, make sure with his own eyes that she was okay - left him feeling cold.

A quiet stab of guilt hits him that he needs that, even at the cost of her own safety, and his palms itch to hold her.

"That's a great question," Felicity says in response to Ellie, running her hand through the girl's soft blonde curls. "But we'll talk about it later, baby, okay? Mommy and Daddy have… something else we need to focus on at the moment."

"Give her to me?" Oliver asks quietly.

Felicity's eyes fly to his and he knows what she's hearing, but that's for later. She shifts Ellie in her arms, handing her over. Ellie's face brightens with a delighted smile at being in her daddy's embrace as she settles against his chest, her little fingers gripping the collar of his shirt. Felicity's hand lingers on their daughter's back and she steps closer to him without even thinking. The same unconscious drive has his hand finding her shoulder before sliding it down her arm.

"How did they get those shots?" Felicity questions, echoing his earlier thoughts. "Channel 52 isn't exactly known for stealth and… I mean, you're you."

"It wasn't a reporter that took them," Oliver tells her with absolute certainty, his mind spinning through the dozens of ways they could have been taken, like something was just waiting for the perfect moment. "This is Isabel. She's probably been staking out Verdant since the moment she found out about Ellie. Maybe even before that. I'd guess that she has hidden cameras operated remotely."

"It's smart," Felicity concedes. "I don't like that she's so smart."

A ghost of a smile pulls at his lips, but it's gone in the next second as he holds Ellie closer, who rests her head in the crook of his neck like it was designed specifically for her. It was, he thinks. It was designed just for her.

The fierce surge of protectiveness fills him again and he grits his teeth.

"I looked," he says. "There was no one there, Felicity. I wouldn't… I wouldn't have brought Ellie out into the open otherwise. I wouldn't have risked that."

Felicity nods, her eyes telling him that she believes him, she knows he wouldn't have. One of her hands is still on Ellie's back and the other grazes his stomach. She grips his shirt lightly, chewing on her bottom lip. The intimacy of the moment isn't lost on him.

"Well," she says. "It might not have been reporters then, but it will be any moment." She looks at him, and the complete trust in her eyes bowls him over. "What do we do?"

It's never failed to make his chest tighten - the way she looks at him, knowing without a doubt that he'll do anything he can to make sure they're safe - and that's no different now.

His heart squeezes with an entirely different emotion at that.

"Let's take one thing at a time," he answers. "We need to get out of here, get somewhere safe, regroup and figure out what to do. How to respond."

"Where is safe right now?" she asks.

Her words shouldn't feel like a gut-punch - she doesn't mean them that way - but they do anyhow, because they're undeniably accurate. QC is entirely out of the question, that's Isabel's home turf these days. Even if Isabel hadn't know the location of their lair, even if they had wanted to hide out downstairs in Verdant, it's Verdant. This is the only thing his sister calls her own right now and considering the exchange he just had with Thea, he seriously doubts they'll be welcome in her building for some time. The manor is bugged by the very people they're trying to evade. If Felicity's apartment isn't staked out yet, it will be soon. There's nowhere they can go where they have the upper hand. There's nowhere safe. It leaves him horribly on edge. This is his family. Keeping the city safe is one thing. He knows he won't win every battle. It's not even possible. But this… losing the battle to protect them… that's not an option.

"The manor," he resolves with a grimace. "It might have its downsides but at least it's familiar ground and we know where we're being watched." The idea of going right where he knows Isabel will be watching them makes him feel like he's turned inside out, but it's better than any of their other options by a longshot. "We can map out where the cameras are, where's safe, and go from there."

"Okay," she nods, agreeing easily, fully trusting of their safety in his hands. "Okay, so we go back to the manor and then we try to figure out our next move. We need to get a handle on Isabel's plans so we can kick her a-... uh… attitude," she finishes awkwardly as she spies Ellie staring at her. She smiles. "Kick her attitude, yup, that's what I was gonna say."

In spite of the situation, Oliver finds himself covering his laugh by ducking his head down to press his lips to the top of Ellie's head. But the moment of amusement is short-lived. Blood's voice breaks through the quiet moment he's found with his future family and it cements the tension that's been mounting in his gut since the moment he'd turned on the television.

"... The public is clearly entitled to know who it is they're electing. Now, I'm not saying that there's more to discover about the Queen family, but this does beg the question, doesn't it? The cornerstone of Moira Queen's entire campaign has been her commitment to her family. Now we find out that she's been hiding some of that family. I, for one, think the voters deserve more transparency than that. If she'd hide a grandchild, what else would she hide? What else isn't she telling us?"

"This is just the start," Oliver realizes aloud. Felicity stiffens, turning back to him. "This is the tip of the iceberg. Blood and Isabel are going to use this to drive the media into a frenzy."

"You think they'll find out you're the Arrow?" Felicity asks.

"I think it's possible that's what Isabel wants… amongst other things," Oliver agrees.

"Other things… like Malcolm being Thea's father?" she asks.

"If Isabel knows that, then it would definitely play into her hands," he sighs, the tension growing along his shoulders as all the ways this could play out poorly mount in his head.

"Then why wouldn't they just tell the press?" she asks. "Why not just give an anonymous tip?"

"Maybe she has," Oliver says with a sinking feeling. "But no respectable media outlet will run with something like that unless they have some kind of evidence. My mother's lawyers would be on them for libel in a heartbeat. And maybe… maybe she hasn't told the press because she wants us defensive. Maybe they want me under so much scrutiny that I can't risk being seen as the Arrow while the media is keeping such a close eye on us. Maybe they just want our hands tied by all the public attention while they're free to make other moves."

"That is so not comforting," Felicity deadpans.

He knows that. It's not like he likes the idea - either of the ideas - but they are the two most likely scenarios he can come up with. Either Isabel wants all the Queen family secrets exposed or she wants them so worried about being exposed that they're preoccupied with keeping them, leaving room for her to do whatever she wants around the city. Was she working that closely with Slade? Did she know what his next move was? Oliver knows, without a doubt, that Slade's plan didn't end with his attack at the manor, he's too smart for that, far too conniving. The question now is, will Isabel go through with it?

As the television shifts back to the anchor who is giving a wholly unflattering recap of his life thus far, Oliver says, "Let's talk more at the house. We need to get out of here before the press shows up." He lets out a heavy breath, his eyes darting towards the entrance of the club. Their location was clearly evident in the photographs taken, the unlit Verdant sign in the background of the shots. "If they haven't already."

"Right," Felicity says, her eyes still on the television, getting an eyeful of the herd of reporters crowding around him as he exits a restaurant with two women at his side. It's clearly from a few years before the island and nothing he wants Felicity or Ellie to see. Oliver turns the TV off, tossing the remote back on the bar, and Felicity's voice is a little smaller as she finishes with, "The press."

It seems to galvanize Felicity because she's suddenly substantially more on edge, which is noteworthy because it's not like either one of them was exactly relaxed in the first place, but this is new turf for her. She's never had to deal with media scrutiny tearing apart her life. She has no idea how horrible that can be, how exposed and ridiculed it can make you feel. He does. He remembers it very well. He might not have been a focus of the press over the past few years, not in the way he was before the Gambit sank, but that sort of experience never fades from memory. And now all of the attention's going to be on her, on Ellie, because of him and who he is. A mystery child with a woman who just a few days ago was nothing more than his executive assistant, at least as far as the public were concerned? The goddamned story practically writes itself.

"I'm sorry," he says before he can stop himself. Felicity's eyes fly to his, her brow furrowing. "This isn't going to be pretty."

An incredulous look slips over her face as she smiles, a smile that tells him right then and there that she thinks he's being ridiculous. The sight of it instantly erases some of the weight off his shoulders - how does she do that? - as she says, "Oliver, I'm pretty sure things stopped being pretty the second I found you bleeding in my car from a bullet hole courtesy of your mother."

Oliver huffs out a little laugh that makes her smile widen a bit. It doesn't reach her eyes, but they're clear, practically luminescent. She may not know exactly what this is going to do to her life, not yet - expectations and reality are so very different when it comes to the media highlighting your every move, every experience - but she's not backing down. She won't. She never does.

God, he loves her.

"We'll get through this," Felicity says. Her voice is a little shaky, but she's resolute. She swallows hard, looking up at him. Some apprehension about their new situation shines through, but she's trusting, open, and he knows that his place at her side - both physically and emotionally - is fully understood. "Just like we get through everything else."

"We will," he responds. Oliver rests a hand against Felicity's lower back. He rubs it in comforting, steady circles, pressing firmly enough that he knows his support can be felt with absolute certainty. He feels her relax minutely, but it's enough.

Felicity nods again, squaring her shoulders.

"Okay then, let's go." Felicity smiles at Ellie. "Ready to go back to grandma's?"

Ellie nods where she's resting her head against Oliver's collarbone. He shifts to wrap her in his jacket, hiding a fair portion of her tiny frame. In great contrast to her parents, she's fully relaxed, settling deeper into the small cocoon he's created for her. Oliver might worry about her safety, but she clearly doesn't worry about her own. She feels safe in his arms and he is beyond grateful that he can give her that, that she's that secure with him. Every part of him wishes he could give that to Felicity too.

"Stay next to me," Oliver says to her as they move towards the exit. "Try to hide your face and don't say anything to them."

Felicity stops him, her eyes widening. "You don't think they're already here, do you?"

"I think it's possible. But if they aren't, they're going to be relentless in the very near future," he advises. "It's best to ignore them completely, as much as you can. Ellie-bug, keep your face turned into me, okay? Just like it is."

"Okay," she says with a nod, her voice muffled against his shoulder. Her little curls bounce with the movement, tickling at his neck. The trust she has in him floors him, prompts him to hold her even closer, fueling his need to protect her. From the press, from Isabel, from the whole goddamned world.

That fierceness translates to Felicity and he laces their fingers together, squeezing her hand. "Ready?"

She's already shaking her head, her fingers gripping him tightly. "Probably most definitely not."

"Let's go," he tells her, realizing this is only going to get worse the longer they leave it.

"Right," Felicity agrees, steeling herself for the world outside with a steadying breath.

But she's not going this alone. Not by a longshot. Oliver doesn't give a damn how it looks at this point; he drops her hand and slides his around her waist, keeping her close. This is where he belongs. And, media scrutiny or not, he's not about to leave her side, not when he's finally realized he's precisely where he needs to be and with precisely who he needs to be with. Like it's the most natural thing in the world, Felicity turns into him and for the split second, holding his girls close, he feels like he's a thousand feet tall, like he can do anything, as long as he has them.

It's well into the afternoon and going from the moderately-lit club to the bright outdoors would have been a bit blinding on its own, but it's not the sun that sears his eyes when the three of them step outside. No, it's the harsh light of flashbulbs going off that makes everything momentarily go white.

Oliver hears Felicity's startled gasp, her arm wrapping around his waist, turning her face down to avoid the bright lights. He holds her closer, whispering, "Hang on," squinting against the flashes, trying to see...

Frank, their driver, is already moving to get between the two photographers invading their space and the little Queen family, but the cameramen aren't having that. They dodge him effectively, getting directly in Oliver and Felicity's path to the car with invasive cameras right in their faces, going off every few seconds, accompanied by even more invasive questions.

"Mr. Queen! Why did you hide your daughter? How did the affair with her mother start? How does this affect your mother's campaign for mayor? Come on, Ollie, give us something!"

He can ignore that one. It's a photographer he remembers from years back, one who worked for some tabloid rag with zero credibility and a readership that's mostly limited to those who skim headlines in line at the grocery store. It's the same crap that used to be thrown at him, and it's almost second nature to let it roll right off his back as he tries to push past them.

The other photographer though… the other photographer is a problem.

Because he's not talking to Oliver.

No, he's talking to Ellie.

"Hey there, princess, give us a smile, will you?"

"Back off," Oliver snaps, turning to shield his daughter, but the photographer brushes him off like he's not even there.

"Just one, princess, smile for the camera… Look over here, princess, come on."

This piece of trash trying to manipulate his three-year-old into a payday is enough to make Oliver's blood boil, to make his muscles tense, to make him clench his jaw, and he has to fight the urge to reach out and yank that goddamned camera right out of his hands and smash it into the ground.

"Just one smile!"

Ellie whimpers at the loud voice demanding her attention, the bright lights flashing in her face, and she presses herself further into her father's chest, trying to get away from it all. She's shaking, not understanding what's going on. She's definitely picking up on her parents' anxiety as they fight their way past the people aiming cameras at them, and she's even more ill-at-ease with strangers shoving their way into her face.

"Felicity, Felicity Smoak!"

He feels Felicity jerk against him with surprise at the familiar way the other photographer shouts her name and he squeezes her side, reminding her she's not alone.

"How did you get Oliver Queen? How old is your daughter, when did you meet him? Are you together now?"

Felicity's shaking starts to match Ellie's and her attempts to push past them are useless. They're relentless, invading their space, bouncing back even as Frank pulls one of them out of the way.

"One little smile, sweetie!"

Ellie whimpers again, a tiny frightened, "Daddy?" reaching his ears, and that sends a rush of white hot anger flooding his system.

"I said back off!" Oliver growls, tightening his hold on both of them, but the photographer isn't listening.

No, he's reaching out, he's touching Ellie's arm, pulling on it slightly to gain her attention. Anger sears him and if that wasn't enough reason for Oliver to break the photographer's hand, in the next second, Ellie yanking away from the foreign touch like she'd just been burned definitely is.

Something deep inside him snaps.

Oliver pushes Ellie into Felicity's arms. His little girl is shaking even more, desperately wrapping herself around her mother, and - oh wow - does that make his insides twist with a fury that only seems to be incited by his daughter perceiving danger of any kind. He had to watch a madman threaten his daughter's life that morning, had to hear her cries and feel her terror like it was his own, and now someone else is reaching for her, making her feel fear all over again.

It sends him right over the edge.

Ellie's barely settled in Felicity's arms when Oliver turns on the photographer, a seething rage propelling him, making him feel more like the Arrow than he ever has without the hood before.

"I said back off!" he snarls, grabbing the man's shirt and slamming him into the wall of the building with a vicious thud. The photographer lets out a sharp cry of pain that undoubtedly indicates the man will have a rather sizable bump on the back of his head come morning, but Oliver doesn't care. He likes it, he wants more, he wants to make sure this man never comes near his daughter again.

Oliver shoves his forearm into the horrible excuse for a photojournalist's neck, taking entirely too much satisfaction in the way the man's eyes go wide and he fights for shallow breaths that barely slip down his throat.

It all happens in the space of a few seconds, but it isn't long enough at the same time, knowing he doesn't have time to do what he wants to this piece of shit human being who scared Ellie, who dared to lay a hand on his little girl.

"Oliver!" Felicity cries out, but he's not hearing her. Not now.

"Touch my daughter again and I'll break your goddamned hands, do you understand me?" Oliver growls, his voice so low and gritty that he might as well be using the voice modulator for as threatening as it comes out.

He's pressing hard enough on the man's throat that he can't speak, but he does nod, wide-eyed and clearly taking Oliver's words quite seriously. Which is good. He should. Oliver means every damned syllable of it and he makes sure the man knows it as he stares into his eyes, promising he'll do just that and more.

Dimly, he's aware that the flash of the other photographer's camera is going wild, capturing the moment from every conceivable angle, including pictures of Felicity where she stands holding Ellie, fright making her appear gaunt as she looks on, the uncertainty on her face telling him she's not sure how far he might go to protect them, and that's bad, so bad in their present company.

This was a set-up, Oliver realizes with sudden clarity. They were working together to get this shot. Ellie interests them, sure, but they want him, they want him unhinged. They want the Ollie who'd shoved around reporters and drunkenly smashed their cameras. They want the irresponsible media magnet of his youth.

With a vicious shove, Oliver lets go of the photographer, leaving the man gasping for air and rubbing his throat as he turns on the other one.

"Give me the camera," he orders.

It doesn't escape his attention that Frank's rounded Ellie and Felicity up and is pushing them toward the car. Oliver lets himself take a breath, finally, lets his shoulders relax just enough, all his concentration on the dirtbags before him.

"No way, man," the guy scoffs, though he looks more than a little terrified as he says it. "Come on, you know what a payday that is. Threaten me if you want, but the hell if you're taking my camera."

"You just conspired to intimidate and assault a toddler for profit," Oliver says, his voice low and dark, telling everyone around him just what he thinks of that. The guy's eyes widen, but he doesn't back down.

"Assault?" He huffs with a laugh that is most definitely edged with nervousness. "He touched her shoulder."

"He terrified a three year old and put a hand on her without permission," Oliver counters, taking a step towards him. The man reads it just as it is - a threat - and bounces back, but he doesn't relinquish the camera. Oliver makes tight fists, fighting the urge to grab him and just take it, some part of him knowing that would make this so much worse. "If either one of you go near my daughter again or if any of those pictures end up in the press, I'm going to have my lawyers sue you both and I will press criminal charges."

"Wait, three?" the other photographer asks. Oliver winces before he can stop himself, glancing back with a hard glare. The rusty wheels in his brain work overtime to process that tidbit Oliver let slip and unfortunately he proves that he has at least two braincells to rub together to create a thought. "How the hell do you have a three year old?" He pushes himself off the wall, his eyes narrowed, his hand still on his throat. "You've been back for, like, two years."

"What are you hiding, Queen?" questions the first reporter.

Oliver forces himself not to move, to take a breath before he dismisses them both. He's got no answers for them - none he's willing to give or that they'd accept, anyhow - and he has way more pressing concerns than a pair of nosy reporters.

"Daddy!" Ellie calls from the car.

Oliver instinctively finds her. His daughter's curled up against Felicity's side but has dared to look back toward him and the reporters. Looking at her where she stretches out her fingers for him even as she leans back into Felicity drives home that her side - their side - is where he needs to be. It's so much more important than these stupid reporters.

"Expect a statement from my mother's campaign," Oliver tells them, moving toward the car. They converge again behind him just as Oliver changes his mind, turning back. They both flinch like he suckerpunched them and he takes a sinister joy in the fear on their faces. "I'm not kidding about those photos or if you dare try a stunt like this again."

Neither of them respond, both frozen at the clear promise in his voice.

Oliver turns back to the car with a short, "Frank, let's get out of here."

"Yes, sir."

As Oliver slides into the seat, Ellie tosses herself at him and his hand falls naturally to pull her closer.

The flashbulbs go off a few more times before he can get the door shut and without even thinking about it, he knows that'll be the shot that hits the papers. They'll listen to him about the more inciteful pictures of him pinning the photographer because they did instigate that one and there were witnesses. But this… this they'll consider fair game. His little girl turning to him for affection and protection, her mother, stroking the back of her hair as she watches the father of her child welcome their daughter into his arms. The intimate little family moment is something they'll exploit completely. For money. For exposure. He hates it, so much so he can taste the acidic rage climbing up his throat, but he also knows how this works.

He really, really wants to get out and hurt them.

"I don't like them," Ellie whispers quietly against his chest as the car rumbles to life. "They weren't nice."

"No, honey, they weren't," he agrees. "I'm sorry."

"Didn't their mommas teach them to be nice?" Ellie asks, looking up at him with the most innocent wide-eyed gaze he can even imagine. It makes his throat tight and his heart ache because the truth that not everyone is a great person shouldn't be a thing she really has to understand yet. Not at three. And yet… and yet it's something that seems to be a constant in her life.

"Maybe they weren't very good listeners," Felicity offers after a moment when Oliver can't seem to find the words to reply to his daughter.

"That's naughty," Ellie declares, as if that resolves everything. She bites her lip hesitantly before glancing at Felicity. "Can I watch more Rascal?"

"Of course, come on over here," Felicity replies, patting the open space between them. Ellie picks up the tablet and starts Rascal the Raccoon again from the beginning, instantly losing herself in the familiar world of her cartoon friends.

He never in his damn life thought he'd be as grateful to a cartoon raccoon as he is in that moment. It's an instant mood stabilizer, giving Ellie something to hold on to in a world where everything isn't quite as it's supposed to be.

As they pull away, the last few minutes catch up with him.

Oliver lets out a heavy breath, scrubbing a hand over his face as the overwhelming twist this afternoon has taken settles over him. He might have dissuaded the reporters from using the worst of their photos, but he'd also referred to Ellie as his daughter. Openly. And he'd blatantly stated her age, and wow, did that open a whole different can of worms that he can't even begin to process.

Fingers tangle with his, soft and easy, and he pulls his other hand away from his face to find Felicity looking at him with considerably more composure than he feels.

"I'm sorry," he sighs out. "I know I shouldn't have… I shouldn't have let them get to me like that, but the second he touched her…"

"Oh, no," Felicity counters with a huff. "They touched Ellie. You go ahead and pin them to walls and threaten them. A-plus plan. I'm on board."

He shouldn't be surprised. Felicity's never been one for pulling punches when they're needed and she's obviously fully in agreement that their daughter is off-limits. All the same, her endorsement of him manhandling the reporters, especially after her sharp, "Oliver!" when he'd lost it, takes him off guard and he finds himself chuckling and shaking his head at her in amazement.

"Well, I'm glad we're on the same page about that," he tells her, holding her gaze and marveling at the way that just looking at her can simultaneously put him at ease while making his pulse race. "But I still shouldn't have let it go quite that far."

"Well… okay, maybe you shouldn't have told them quite so much," Felicity agrees, sliding her fingers between his. She rubs her thumb against his inner wrist. "They're gonna run with it. It's going to be a problem."

Oliver sighs, closing his eyes. "Seems like we have a lot of those these days."

"There is definitely not a shortage," she agrees. "But at least with this one we have a bit of time to figure out how to deal with it." He concedes with a nod. She has a point. Felicity pauses and it's long enough that Oliver looks at her with raised eyebrows. She pinches her lips before saying, "You should call your mother."

If he flinches at this it's only because he's honestly never expected to hear those words out of her mouth.

"Her campaign is going to have to respond," Felicity reminds him. "About…" She waves at Ellie and then between them. "This, and we need to decide how. I'm so not going to leave that up to her campaign manager because I can only imagine what they'll come up with. I know a lot's happened, but that doesn't mean I trust your mother all that much. Or, at all. Still." She winces, glancing at him. "Sorry, but someone who can casually talk about disposing of an actual body like it's whatever doesn't exactly have boundaries."

He's not arguing with her.

"I'm more worried about Isabel," Oliver confesses.

"Oh, me too," Felicity says. She leans back and for a split second he sees how much the weight of the last day has taken its toll. "Honestly, before all of this, I wasn't even sure I was going to vote for your mom. She is sort of a mass murderer and that's not usually something that really inspires my vote." She sighs. "But now it's pretty clear that we need her to win. Whatever Isabel is up to, she's backing Blood. It's part of whatever Slade's contingency plan is and, even though we don't know what that was yet, I'm pretty sure we don't want it to succeed."

"Definitely not," Oliver agrees.

"So maybe we do let her take the reins on…" She glances at Ellie and then their clasped hands before meeting his eyes. "This."

"One step at a time," Oliver says. "We need more information before we start saying anything to anybody, about their plan and what they're doing. Do you think…"

His voice trails off as he thinks because he's not sure he wants to acknowledge this thought. He's even less certain he wants to voice it.

"Do I think what?" she asks, scooting a little closer to him. Ellie wriggles between them, contented to be sandwiched by her parents, her eyes not leaving the tablet for a second, Rascal the Raccoon's adventures providing quiet background music to their conversation.

Which is probably better considering what he's about to suggest.

"Maybe we could… get him to tell us?" Oliver asks, choosing his words carefully. He glances down at Ellie, but she's oblivious.

"Get him to… oh," Felicity says in surprise as the words settle and she mulls them over. "Well… I think if anyone could get him to talk it would be A.R.G.U.S," she concedes. "But, Oliver, I wouldn't hold my breath."

"No," he agrees. "Even before he was infected, he was more than well-trained on how to withstand interrogation… but I think it's worth a try. I'll call Lyla, see if Waller's willing to have someone pressure him to answer a few questions."

"Okay," Felicity agrees easily - as if they aren't discussing torturing someone for information. "But, Isabel would be more likely to talk, I think."

"She's too high profile," Oliver says with a sigh. "I mean, you're right. I'm not sure how Slade could be… compelled. But Isabel, she's front and center in the press right now. There's no way we'd be able to confront them without drawing the wrong kind of attention." He looks at Ellie. "Especially now."

"Do you think that's why she's using the media?" Felicity asks, quirking her head to the side. "Is it a defensive move? An insurance policy?"

"If it is, it's a damned good one," Oliver confides, keeping his voice low. "If the press is following us everywhere, I can't walk in somewhere as Oliver Queen and then have the Arrow walk back out. And neither one of them can disappear without the wrong sort of questions being asked."

"So we look for another weakness," Felicity resolves. "We figure out what they want and we use that. And we sure as hell make certain that your mother wins this election."

"What's 'hell' mean?" Ellie asks, looking up from her tablet.

Felicity's face turns about four shades of red at the question and she is - for once in her life - totally speechless for a moment.

"It's… I... " she sputters, but nothing else comes out.

"Mommy said the wrong word by mistake," Oliver tells Ellie. "She didn't mean that. It's not a nice word. We don't use that word, okay?"

"Oh… okay," Ellie says, looking back down at her tablet.

"Sorry," Felicity mouths toward Oliver, still somewhat resembling a ripe tomato. "Future-me is obviously way better with the brain-to-mouth filter thing, which we both know is a feat, so go future-me. But how the… heck," she mouths that word too so Ellie doesn't hear it, "am I supposed to know now how much of a sponge she is?"

"I'm not a sponge, momma," Ellie says and Felicity's jaw snaps shut. "Spongebob is a sponge, I'm not a sponge."

"It's like she can turn it on and off," Felicity muses under her breath. She looks at Oliver. "At least Spongebob is still around I guess, that's something to look forward to beside my corrupting our child."

Oliver can't possibly help the grin that spreads across his face at that, at the absurdity of her statement - she's one of the purest people he knows, there's no way she'd corrupt anyone, much less their daughter. He leans over to kiss her temple. She's just too damned adorable not to. His chest warms when she leans into him.

"It's fine," he murmurs lowly into her skin. "Don't worry about it."

"Oh man, we're gonna have parent-teacher conferences where I have to explain why our daughter says things like that and it's going to be all my fault. Sometime in the future I'm going to blame past-me for introducing cursing to our child," she mutters in embarrassment.

He laughs, letting himself relax in his seat a bit more. "Yeah, that's what I'm worried about right now, future parent-teacher conferences."

"Oliver…" she groans.

"No, really," he continues, squeezing her hand, because as ridiculous as it sounds, it's true. "Isabel has some evil plan of Slade's to execute, she's using Blood to smear our names across the media to try and beat my mother in an election, and reporters are shoving cameras in my daughter's face and baiting her - and me, by extension... but what I'm actually concerned about is a teacher years from now possibly telling us that our daughter used a curse word in class." Oliver looks at her. "She'd be taking after her mother."

"That is so not funny, Oliver," Felicity says, but she can't contain the laugh that slips out as she pushes on his shoulder with her free hand.

Her laughter is contagious and he chuckles, catching her hand in his. Oliver laces their fingers together for a split second, tightening his grip on her other one, and presses a soft kiss to her fingers.

"As long as it's coming from you, I don't care what she does," he says. Felicity's face softens and his heart stutters at the warmth in her eyes before adding, "Even if it's her cursing up a storm in the classroom."

"I won't," Ellie interrupts, not even looking up from her tablet. "I don't like things that aren't nice. Santa doesn't bring presents to kids who are naughty." She looks up at Oliver. "Can I have ice cream when we get home?"

Her change in topics is enough to give him mental whiplash.

"Uh, well…" He pauses. Does she eat ice cream often in the future? Do they even have ice cream at the manor? "We'll see, okay?"

"Okay," she agrees easily with a nod. "I hope so. I hope we have strawberry. With sprinkles even. The rainbow kind."

People talk about how resilient kids are - he's heard that before - but he doesn't think he'd understood it until now. That Ellie can be held by a madman in the morning, watch her father almost die, have a nightmare that nearly sends her into hysterics, be shunned by her beloved aunt, get grabbed by a reporter and have cameras shoved in her face but still focus on something like how much she wants ice cream is utterly mindboggling.

"You know what?" he says as he thinks about how precious it is that she wants something so simple, so childlike and innocent. "Yes, you can have ice cream. After dinner. And if we don't have strawberry, we'll get some, okay?"

"Really?" she asks delightedly, looking up at him with sheer delight on her face. "With sprinkles even?"

"Rainbow ones," he confirms and she grins happily.

"Thank you, Daddy," she tells him, dropping the tablet to hug his torso tightly. Oliver grins, hugging her back, dipping down to kiss the top of her head.

"Oliver Queen, you are a complete pushover," Felicity declares. Her voice is wistful and the complete opposite of judgmental.

He's definitely a bit of a pushover for Ellie, but he's not exactly sorry about that. In fact, it's sort of a point of pride at the moment. Oliver can only manage a half shrug in sheepish agreement. Felicity shakes her head in what he's sure is supposed to be chastisement, but it seems like she's enjoying it just as much as he is.

"Mr. Queen," calls out Frank all of a sudden, reminding Oliver about their driver's presence. "Sorry to interrupt, sir, but we're nearly back to the manor and we might have a bit of a problem…"

Oliver glances out the window. His jaw drops. A solid dozen reporters are lined up in front of the gate and the instant they spot the car, they come to life like hornets who've had their nest disturbed. They goddamned swarm.

The windows to the town car are tinted, there's no way they could possibly see in, but that doesn't stop any of them from pushing their cameras right up against the glass, the flashes going off, while others shove microphones up against the edges of the windows.

"Oh. Wow," Felicity says, equal parts startled and amazed. "This is crazy."

She's right. He's been in the public eye a long time, but he's never seen the media like this. They're hungry for this story - ravenous.

On the surface, he gets why. It's sex and politics, secrets and money. The press loves nothing as much as it loves a scandal and so far this has all the hallmarks of an epic one. He's the prodigal son who returned from the dead but seemingly lost everything only for it to be revealed that he has a secret child whose legacy he's let slip through his grasp. So… yeah, he gets it in theory.

But in practice, the instant she recognizes what's happening, Ellie clings to his arm and tries to sink back against the seat to make herself seem smaller and he can't understand how anyone with any semblance of a heart would do this to her.

Oliver and Felicity move at the same time, wrapping themselves around her.

"What would you like me to do, Mr. Queen?" Frank asks, looking back at them, offering a thin, reassuring smile toward Ellie.

"Is driving through them not an option?" Felicity asks. That earns a surprised look from both men and a furrowed brow from Ellie. "Kidding… sorry, that was… a bad joke. Obviously we can't drive through them. That would be bad. We could hurt someone."

Ellie seems mollified by that, but Oliver is well aware that Felicity wasn't entirely joking. And he can't blame her because he's not sure he's all that opposed to the notion himself. Still… as bad press goes there's very little that would be worse than driving through a throng of reporters, no matter the intention.

Oliver sighs, glaring at a pesky reporter knocking on the window right next to his head, even though she can't see him.

"I need your cell phone," Felicity says suddenly, holding out her hand expectantly.

"Okay…" he agrees, pulling it from his pocket and handing it over. "Why?"

"Because we need reinforcements," she tells him, unlocking his phone - he's not at all surprised she knows the password even though he's never told her - and scrolling through his contacts.

"Did you lose your phone?" he asks in confusion as she puts the phone to her ear.

"Of course not," she says, looking at him like he's crazy. And… okay maybe that is a little nuts. Felicity losing a piece of tech would be like him losing his bow.

"So you needed my phone because…"

"Because I don't have the number," she replies before someone picking up pulls her attention away. "Hi! No, it's Felicity. We're in the drive but we can't get past the gate. There are reporters blocking the car. Do you think you have some people who could get rid of them for us? ...I mean that in a non-permanent sort of way. Obviously. Because dead reporters would be completely counterproductive at the moment. Or, well… mostly counterproductive. There'd be a few less of them writing stories anyhow. That part would be a definite plus..."

"Are you talking to my mother?" Oliver asks, blinking at her as her words click into place.

"Thank you, Mrs. Queen - Moira," Felicity self-corrects immediately, confirming his suspicions before she laughs at something his mother says. Oliver feels like maybe the earth has just started spinning backwards or Isabel decided to give up her evil crusade in favor of donating her time to rescuing abandoned kittens or something equally impossibly ridiculous. Because Felicity is laughing with his mother and his brain can't process.

When she hangs up the phone, handing it back to him, he doesn't take it. He just looks at her.

Felicity blinks. "What?"

But, strange as the moment is, it only gets more surreal when the gate slides open and four men Oliver vaguely recognizes from the security at his mother's campaign events stroll out, Sara standing smack dab in the middle like a general leading her troops. All-in-all, it's not a bad analogy - she's clearly in charge.

"Oh, that's… huh…" Felicity pauses, sounding slightly unsettled. "Not who I expected."

Sara and the men are already moving, herding the chaos outside out of the way, making it far more manageable and passable, letting Oliver concentrate on what he just heard in Felicity's voice. This is the first time they've both seen Sara since… everything.

He's wrapping his arm around her shoulder and pulling her close before he can think twice, sandwiching Ellie between them enough that she squeaks and laughs, wriggling a bit to make herself some room.

"She's not mad," Oliver reminds Felicity. He presses a lingering kiss to her forehead. "And she likes you. There's no blame here, you have nothing to worry about."

"I know…" Felicity says, but the doubt is obvious in her voice and Oliver can't help raising an eyebrow at her as the car starts slowly moving toward the now-open gate. "It's just… you two were a thing for a long time and that ended all of a day ago, Oliver. You haven't even seen her since you broke up."

He blinks at her, surprise dawning in his features.

"Are you seriously questioning if I'm going to regret breaking things off with her?" he asks in amazement.

"No… maybe?" Felicity replies, pinching her eyes shut and shaking her head. "I don't know. It's just… it's a lot, Oliver. And there's a lot of history with you two."

"And there always will be," he agrees. "I can't change that. And, I wouldn't if I could. We saw each other through a lot. I wouldn't have gotten through most of what I did without her. But it's also firmly in the past. You have to know that. Everything I want - everything I want - is right here in this car."

Felicity stares at him, and everything slowly fades away until it's just them, in their little cocoon, just like the night before in bed. They're both very aware that Ellie is right there, but that doesn't do anything to deter the moment, or to inhibit the way the air around them grows heavy - heated, thick with a sense of anticipation that sets his nerves alight.

Oliver can't bring himself to look anywhere but her eyes as her pupils swamp the familiar blue. She traces the lines of his face with her gaze, like maybe she's appraising him anew. If she is, it's obvious she very much likes what she finds. Oliver smiles softly, a tiny quirk of his mouth that has her eyes dropping to his lips in a way that makes suddenly everything a little too warm before meeting his eyes again.

This is new - all of it is so new, but it's already intoxicating. Even if he has to do it every day, he'll reassure her that this is what he wants, if that's what she needs. He'll tell her until she believes it, until she knows it, just as surely as he does.

For the moment, he's succeeded, and when she leans in, her hand coming up to grip the sleeve of his jacket...

"As touched as I am to be wanted and valued by my employer, sir," Frank pipes up from the driver's seat, effectively breaking the tension of the moment, jarring Oliver's attention. "We're here."

Felicity blushes, ducking her head as Oliver chuckles to the sound of Frank climbing out of the car.

"You've got more of a sense of humor than I remembered, Frank," Oliver tells him when the other man opens the door for them.

"I have my moments, sir," Frank acknowledges, clearly fighting back a smile as he offers Ellie a hand out of the car. "Will that be all for the night?"

Oliver chances a glance back toward the gate. The reporters aren't dumb enough to trespass on private property - not at this point anyhow, not right in front of him - but the glare of their lights are still evident and he knows they're filming even now.

"Yes," Oliver confirms, looking back at Frank before scooping Ellie up and holding her protectively against his chest. "We aren't going anywhere for the time being."

Given the state of the frenzy at the gate, he wonders if that isn't a massive understatement.

"Very good, sir," Frank nods. "You know, I was thinking the garage could be cleaned out, sir. The car might need to spend the evening in the drive. Terrible timing for those reporters, though. It just might make it difficult for them to get an easy shot."

Oliver grins widely and grips the driver's shoulder in gratitude.

"I think I like you, Frank," Oliver tells him.

"Sir, I've driven you on and off for more than a decade," Frank tells him. "And I'm most pleased to say that at long last I return that sentiment."

Felicity actually snorts in amusement from his side, but Frank just grins down at Ellie, winking at her before turning back to the car. Good to his word, he drives it right up to the gate, parking it lengthwise directly in front of a slew of incredibly annoyed reporters.

But Oliver only has a moment to delight in their angry protests because a second later his mother opens the door widely and takes them in with a harried look of relief.

"Oh thank goodness," she declares. "Get inside before this gets worse."

"Hi, Gramma," Ellie greets from her place tucked against Oliver's chest, seeming none the worse for wear given her situation.

"Mom…" Oliver starts warily.

"Not yet, Oliver," she chastises sharply, eyeing the lawn with distrust. "In the house."

She ushers them in with an air of authority that Oliver had long ago learned to expect from his mother.

"Felicity, why don't you take Ellie into the den for a few moments?" Moira suggests.

"No, Mom," Oliver says immediately, grabbing Felicity's hand to keep her at his side. "She's not going anywhere."

The annoyance on his mother's face is unmistakable, but Oliver's standing firm on this. He's not excluding Felicity. Not in this. Not in anything.

"Oliver…" his mother starts, with a tone that clearly says he's trying her patience and she's not all that happy at having to explain herself. "There are some things not suitable for little ears and we can hardly leave her unattended, even in the house. One never knows who might be watching."

"Oh, I have a pretty good idea of who's watching and so do you. That's basically the cause of our current problem," Oliver points out. "But this involves Felicity. I'm not shutting her out."

Moira Queen lets out a huff of annoyance that somehow seems dignified and looks toward the ceiling as if she's seeking patience.

"Fine," she finally says. "We think we've come up with a solution to the… news of your being a parent breaking, as it did. It's clean, it's simple and it explains everything."

Oliver blinks in surprise. He turns to look at Felicity, who looks just as taken aback as he is, although he can see her mind jumping ahead a couple paces, trying to figure out what his mother is getting at. Her eyes dart to his before going back to Moira, the fine lines around her eyes tensing as she waits.

"What is it?" Oliver asks.

Moira hesitates, and he knows right then and there that he's going to hate what she says, especially when she looks down at Ellie and then at Felicity.

"Mom."

She pinches her lips together, still not speaking. And then she looks at Oliver, and it's the calm, cool collected woman who did everything to protect her family for all those years staring back at him.

"You have to publicly disclaim Ellie as your daughter."

Chapter Text

She hears him the second she opens the door.

The repetitive sound of his fists slamming into something heavy and unmoving echoes up the stairs, highlighted by periodic grunts and what sounds like low growls from a room at the far end of the basement. The door's open, a rectangle of light at the end of a short hallway, a door she can only assume leads to a gym - of course there's a gym in the Queen Manor, there's probably an Olympic-sized pool hiding somewhere.

Felicity barely pauses to notice the rest of the basement level of Queen Manor, making her way down the steps and towards him. Most of the underground level is dark but she can see it's near-utilitarian compared to the rest of the house, barely decorated with a neat but threadbare carpet that has the kind of chill that comes with a place that's rarely used.

Except for the gym, where he is.

The room is open and spacious, harsh fluorescent lights spotlighting the ridiculous amounts of equipment… and him, where he stands in the corner by a series of punching bags hanging from hooks in the ceiling. His body is tightly coiled as he pounds his frustrations out on the swinging leather bag. The chain groans when it swings, and it's the only other sound save for his heavy breathing and the ugly sound of his knuckles being torn up.

Despite that - really, it should be her only thought, because it doesn't sound pretty, and even though she knew she'd find him down here stewing, it's different to actually see it than to imagine it - she can't help but… stare.

Felicity has seen Oliver shirtless many times - many, many times - in varying degrees of sweatiness, when he works out or wanders around or undresses after a mission - which she only saw once, on accident, and she nearly took an eye out when she'd turned away with a quiet, "Oh!"

Any which way she's seen him, it never fails to take her breath away, never fails to make her feel a familiar warm tug in the pit of her stomach, one that slowly grows into a pool of welcome heat as she watches him…

This time is no different.

He's still wearing his jeans from earlier, and they're still just as snug, somehow more snug since he's also shirtless, his skin covered in a light sheen of well-earned sweat. The band of his pants hugs his hips, shifting with every move he makes, every jab… his muscles contract with each breath, hard and… muscly… and he's barefoot.

That has her heart skipping a beat.

But now something's different. Maybe it's because she can actually stare, or that she's letting herself stare, or because she knows why he's down here, what he's doing, and his reasons for it… whatever it is has a shiver falling down her spine, making her stomach clench with an awareness she's never felt around him. Felicity swallows past the dryness in her mouth, oddly aware of how hot her fingertips are where she grips the doorjamb, that her skin feels tighter, her breasts heavier.

Something's definitely different, and she knows without a doubt that it has everything to do with Ellie.

It's been there, ever since she realized she had a child with Oliver, but it was cemented at the sight of his face when Ellie whispered, "Hi, daddy." It was sewn into her very foundations when the little girl launched herself into his arms, when she saw him curl around her, protecting her without a second thought, the urge to protect the child he knew was his… the child he has with her. That memory alone tugs at her core, in a way that makes her next breath shaky.

Felicity hasn't really had the chance to sit down and examine it, to think about it, to realize what she's feeling and why she's feeling it, but it was always there, simmering in the recesses of her mind, there but barely out of view.

Well, the reality of him needing to deny that Ellie is his child is shoving everything into a new light.

They haven't talked about what they are yet, what they'll become or what either of them really wants. They haven't really had the chance to sit down and do much of anything because the second they slow down, something else happens and they're tossed back up into the air, hoping to at least land right-side-up so they can see the next thing coming for them.

There's so much to do, so much to figure out and plan for and worry about, to freak out about…

Later.

Because right now, they need a them moment. They deserve that and she's taking it.

Felicity knows he's aware of her. She sees the tiniest tightening of his muscles, the way his head turns slightly, like he's acclimating himself to her entering his environment.

He doesn't say a word and neither does she. Hell, she wouldn't know where to start even if she wanted to. How exactly do you start a conversation that gets into the whys and hows of their future daughter being outed as their child? One that broaches, amongst other things, that to keep her safe - to keep them all safe - he has to get up in a roomful of strangers and say she isn't his?

Like he can hear her thoughts, Oliver punches the bag harder with a vicious exhale of air, sending it swinging. He's almost telegraphing that he wants to be alone, that he needs to be alone. A few days ago, she would have respected that. She would have backed off and left him in solitude, let him work through his issues, knowing he would find her after if he still needed to talk.

Not now.

She might have allowed him the space to stew a week ago, but that was before Ellie, before someone snapped the perfect family photo of them and plastered it all over the nightly news to pry open a can of worms that didn't exist about 'Oliver Queen's secret family'. A secret family, like they're something he's ashamed of, something he's been trying to hide, something that he just slipped up on when a camera caught sight of them.

Like hell she's leaving him alone right now.

Oliver hits the bag even harder.

She knows he wants to punch it until it explodes - or better yet, go outside and take out his frustrations on the crowd of reporters and cameramen hounding the gate - but she also knows it won't do anything to actually help. It's just going to churn his anger. And getting up tomorrow morning at the press conference that Moira's already scheduled - standing in front of those cameras and lying to everyone with quiet regret and unspoken bitterness coating his tongue - that will only make it worse. Felicity could see the foundations of this forming the instant he'd fallen silent after his impassioned argument with his mother. That split second when he'd finally caved, when something inside him had accepted her words, cracked under the strain of reality. He'd closed his eyes, taken a breath…

"Fine."

He'd nodded, and she'd seen him pushing it down, she'd seen the realization come over him when the inevitability of Moira's words sank in. His knee-jerk reaction to counter his mother's proclamation had been something he'd clung to even as she'd worn away the edges of his resolve, chipped away at his certainty that there must be another option.

Because there wasn't. It had just taken him one long, heart-wrenching conversation to realize the truth of that.

"You have to publicly disclaim Ellie as your daughter."

He'd been quiet and she hadn't pushed, because he'd stayed right by their side all the way through Moira explaining the plan. It almost sounded too easy. Her campaign manager was already drafting a loose script for him - "just for guidance, to get the main point across without bringing too much emotion into it, because it will be hard, Oliver." He'd remained beside her through dinner, the tense meal made lighter only by Ellie's oblivious rambling, before the three of them had escaped upstairs to his room with the intention of getting away from the cameras - something they still hadn't talked about - and going through the boxes of toys Raisa had apparently found in the basement before Slade's attack.

But then…

"What's disclaim mean?"

The question had come out of nowhere. Felicity had barely managed to answer with something that didn't make her stomach revolt - she couldn't even remember now what she'd said - when Oliver had suddenly stood up.

"I'll be back in a few minutes."

Well, it's been a few minutes, and that's all she's giving him.

Moira had seemed more than happy to keep an eye on Ellie for a bit. In fact, if Felicity wasn't mistaken, the Queen matriarch's eyes had reflected a hint of both pride and approval as her intentions had become clear. It had been weird seeing that look on Moira Queen's face directed at her, but that thought isn't something Felicity intends to dwell on at the moment. It's Oliver who has her whole focus. It's him who needs her, even if he doesn't seem to know it at the moment.

She steps into the room, toeing her shoes off, her socks next, and without glancing at any of the other equipment heads for the smaller punching bag that hangs a few feet away from his.

He finally stops when she enters his line of sight, his head turning just enough to look at her as she plants her feet in front of her own punching bag. She spreads her feet, remembering what Sara told her once about stance and power, back when Felicity hadn't been thinking the kindest thoughts, when she felt like Sara had been encroaching on her territory, territory that had included Oliver.

Funny how things work out.

"What are you doing?" he asks, his voice rough.

It almost makes her turn to him. She almost gives him a sympathetic look that says she knows exactly what he's feeling… alright, maybe not exactly but a look that says she's here for him in every way she can be. She doesn't though. She reins in that impulse because she can see how that would play out - him withdrawing even more, pulling back because she doesn't get it but he still appreciates her efforts so he'll put on the happy face… She's not sure what he's looking for down here, but she knows it's not validation for his feelings. It's something else.

So…

"I thought I'd see if hitting things makes me feel better too," Felicity replies, making tight fists, preparing to punch the bag. "It's gotta do some good, right? You're so focused on it, it must be doing something…"

Felicity pulls her arm back, gritting her teeth, preparing to hit the thing as hard as she can - it is worth a try - but Oliver cuts her off.

"Well, like that you're going to make yourself feel a whole lot worse." He abandons his punching bag, moving towards her. "Punching bags move. It's not like the dummies at the foundry."

Felicity furrows her brow - and that means what exactly? - when Oliver steps up behind her, reaching around her to cover her hands with his. Her heart simultaneously leaps at the touch just as much as her stomach twists when she sees the damage he's done to himself. The skin is cracked over his knuckles, already bruised and covered in bloodied streaks. He's warm, his palms a little damp with sweat as he adjusts her fists, turning her wrist on her right hand as he tucks her left arm closer to her chest.

"You'll break your wrist if you hit it wrong," he says. His voice is soft but it's not her voice, his 'Felicity' voice, and they both know it.

She wants to pull his hands up and press her lips to the broken skin, she wants to chastise him and kiss him silly, but she knows it'd be futile. Still, she needs to do something so she unwinds her fist and turns her hand so their palms are touching, lacing her fingers through his.

His breath catches, his bare chest grazing her back for a split second, and for an instant he tightens his hold on her, gripping her hand. She looks back at him. His eyes are glued on their hands, a mixture of wonder… and something that looks like regret. Oliver loosens his fingers but she doesn't let him let go.

"So show me how to do it right then," Felicity says, leaning back against him with a little nudge. His reply is to sigh, his shoulders falling, and she doesn't relent. "I think we do things better when we work as a team. Don't you?"

The silence between them seems to stretch on forever.

"I know what you're doing," he finally says, sounding distant and far away, like he's trying to pull back but he can't. He leans into her for a second, pressing his face into her hair where he takes a deep breath before releasing her hands.

She doesn't let him go, though, and she feels his biceps tighten around her. To pull away or in aggravation or fighting the urge to give in, she's not sure. It's probably some mixture of all of that. Oliver is a whirlpool of emotion right now, all of it churning and mixing in a violent fury that threatens to drown him in the undertow. Luckily for both of them, she's here to keep that from happening.

"Well," Felicity replies, "I wasn't exactly being subtle about it, Oliver." She pulls his arms back around her and he sighs again. "Show me."

"Felicity…"

She looks back just as he pulls away from her, unwinding his fingers from hers, stepping back… away from the comfort she can offer him, the support she wants to give him. His eyes are closed, his jaw clenched tight, and she turns to face him as he rakes his hands through his hair.

There's so much going on in that head of his right now, none of it good, and she's sure that he doesn't know how to resolve any of it. While she doesn't exactly know how to fix any of this either, she can at least do something. Or try. But he has to let her.

"We're partners in this," Felicity says. "And I know this is hard for you, but-"

"You don't," he counters sharply, cutting her off with a hard look. For a split second, he lets her in, lets her see the simmering anger and pain deep inside him. It takes her breath away just as much as it speaks to her own anger and she instinctively moves to him, but he steps back again and she pauses, waiting. He's biting the inside of his lip and, as if the pain is a trigger, she sees the shutters come back up. But not completely. He bows his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… but you don't. You don't…"

Oliver stops, unable to voice it.

"Okay," Felicity agrees with a little nod. "Maybe I don't. But I'd like to." He gives her a tired look and she answers with a plaintive smile. "This is one thing we have to be partners in, Oliver, there's no you or me. It has to be us." A look she can't name crosses his face, one that makes her move towards him again before stopping herself. Her palms itch to reach out but she doesn't. "Talk to me. Tell me what's got you down here punishing yourself." Felicity closes her eyes. "That probably could've been worded a bit better. I just… Why are you down here, by yourself, when you could be upstairs. With your family."

The word 'family' seems to echo throughout the entire room, and she sees it hit him like she's just touched a raw nerve. He winces, pressing his lips together into a thin line, his eyes never leaving her until it becomes too much and he turns away.

"Oliver," she starts, moving to go after him, raising her hand to touch him, her eyes on his tight shoulders, on the movement of his muscles as he buries his face in his hands before he abruptly turns back, startling her.

"I'm just…" His voice cracks, his hands making tight fists before he releases them with a wince. He takes a shaky breath, gritting his teeth before he lets it all out, his shoulders collapsing under the weight. "I'm watching it all slip through my fingers."

Felicity's heart breaks.

"Watching what slip through your fingers?" she asks softly.

"This," he says, gesturing towards her. Her chest tightens and the rush of tears burns her eyes. She blinks them away, taking a steadying breath. "Her. You. All of it."

She has to bite her tongue to keep herself still as he speaks, as he lays it all out.

"For the first time…" He lets out a humorous laugh. "For the first time ever, I let myself think I could have this. I could be happy and live the kind of life I want to, but now… now I have to deny it." He pauses, and she can see his struggle as he stares at her, almost begging her to find a way to make it better. "I have to say she's not mine and this isn't really my family, because it's not safe otherwise."

That has her stepping towards him again with a quiet, "Oliver," as she shakes her head, but he's not done.

"Will it ever be safe for her?" he demands, a quiet desperation coating the words. "Someday things are so bad we have to send her to another time for her own protection. Is that the only kind of life I can offer her? She's so… she's perfect, Felicity, she's… I love her so much, and I love…"

Her stomach drops, her eyes widening as he cuts himself off, swallowing hard. Oliver closes his eyes as Felicity's hands start shaking, the implication of what he was about to say hitting her. It's hitting him too, just as hard… and she almost asks him to continue, but he stopped for a reason.

It's too early, way too early, but she knows, just as surely as he does.

Her heart's racing as he continues.

"I love this future," he says, his eyes shiny with unshed tears, "I love this family that we create. And I want it so badly it makes my chest hurt. But she deserves better than a father who denies she's his."

No.

It hits her like a Mack truck slamming into her chest: no.

Felicity shakes her head - because no, no, he can't be actually saying this, actually believing it - and she steps towards him but he holds his hand up to ward her off. That only pisses her off more.

"And you deserve a partner who can offer you more than that," Oliver finishes, and he sounds so sad, so resigned, that she snaps.

"No," Felicity says. Loudly. He jerks as her voice carries through the room, like she'd just slammed a door in his face. His brow furrows as she closes the distance between them. "Just stop. You're wrong."

"No," he counters softly, so softly because he believes it, "I'm not."

"You are," Felicity replies, invading his space before he can get away. He closes his eyes again, like he can't look at her, shaking his head to ward her off, but she doesn't let him. Felicity's hands come up, one cupping the side of his neck, the other resting right over his heart. It's pounding, and his skin is so warm, nearly scalding. "Look at me."

"Felicity…"

"Look at me, Oliver," she demands and his eyes instantly snap open. "We will never have the kind of life that is safe, because of the choices we've made."

He moves to argue but she cuts him off this time.

"Our lives have meaning." She stares at him, and it's her turn to beg him to see what she's feeling, what she's trying to tell him. "We make a difference. And yes… yes, I will worry about her safety every single day of my life. I know I will, because I love her too. I love her more than anything else I will ever love in my entire life."

Oliver's breathing is uneven, his lips trembling, but his gaze never wavers.

"But… she gets to see that her life can be so much more than routine, that she can have an impact, make the world better. And that's so… amazing, that we can give that to her. We can't just accept this notion that it can't happen because something bad might take it all away one day. We're not the sort of people that settle just because there's risk, Oliver. If I'd taken the easy route with my life, I'd be a cocktail waitress in Vegas like my mother. I never would have gone to college, and I never would have moved a thousand miles away to work at Queen Consolidated… and I never would have believed some crazy guy in a hood when he told me I could be more than just some IT girl."

He cracks a tiny smile, his head bowing against the memory, and she dips her head to catch his eye again.

"I'd never have gotten the chance to meet you, to have a life with you… and to have her." He makes a tiny sound that she barely catches and Felicity tightens her hold on his neck for emphasis. "None of that would've happened if we'd just accepted that we can't have it all. That's not who you are, Oliver. And that's not who I am. We're the kind of people who fight with every breath we have to make the world better. It's not safe. And it's not easy, but nothing worthwhile really is. And that world we're fighting for, Oliver? That's the world my daughter deserves to live in, the world our daughter deserves to live in."

"Felicity," he sighs, her name unsteady on his lips as he closes his eyes.

He's still not convinced, which is fine because she's nowhere near done.

"She deserves a father who loves her so much he'd do absolutely anything to protect her and this city, a father who builds pillow forts with her and plays with her in a fairy castle and wipes her nose when she cries. That's what I want for my daughter, Oliver." He looks at her, his eyes wet with tears and the sight of them makes her own surge to the surface. Felicity smiles, stepping closer, curling her fingers over his heart. "She deserves you. And I know you don't believe it, Oliver, but… you deserve her too."

Oliver's eyes slam shut at that and Felicity fights the urge to ask him to open them again. For a long moment, he doesn't do anything, or say anything. He barely breathes. But as the seconds tick by, she can feel the fine tremble where she's touching him, she can feel his muscles flex when he tightens his hands…

With a deep breath, Oliver finally moves, his hands coming up to her waist. Felicity's breath catches at the familiarity, her heart taking off as he slips them around her, holding her tightly. She watches him watch his hands as he touches her, like he's making sure she's real, like what she's saying is real, before they finally land on her hips.

She's not sure who's trembling at this point.

"It was a castle," he says.

"What?" she asks, blinking, spreading her fingers out over his Bratva tattoo.

"The pillows." Oliver smiles, meeting her eye. "It was a castle, not a fort."

It takes her a second to catch up, to realize what he's saying, and when she does, Felicity huffs out a little laugh. And then she nods.

"Well, she deserves a dad who knows that." He looks down, almost bashful, and she has to bite her lip as the sight of him doing that tugs at her heart. It's so oddly cute and it makes her chest feel full. "Oliver… telling people you aren't her father doesn't make it true." That makes him stiffen and she shakes her head, because it means nothing. "You are an incredible dad. You took to Ellie so fast, and so fully, it's… it takes my breath away to watch. Nothing you say tomorrow is going to change that you're her dad, Oliver, nothing. She will never doubt that, we'll never let her. And nothing you say tomorrow will change that I want this too." The growing light in his eyes takes her breath away. "And not just for her, but for me too. So, so much."

"Felicity," he breathes.

Oliver tugs her closer, pressing his forehead to hers as she shivers at the way he draws her name out.

Fe-li-ci-ty.

He slides his hands up her sides, his fingers dancing over her ribs, and she's ridiculously aware of them as she takes a deep breath. He's warm and it's only when he's holding her like this, surrounding her and letting her in, that she feels it seep into her, warming her from the inside out.

This is it.

He's it.

"I think I was head-over-heels for you from about thirty seconds after we met," Felicity murmurs, her nose brushing against his. "But it's so much more now, so much more, because… Oliver, every day… every day I spend with you, I fall in love with you a little bit more. I didn't even know I could."

He takes a stuttering breath, echoing the way her heart skips a beat as he pulls back to look at her.

Felicity looks at him, barely blinking, and the vulnerability that's slowly filling her reflects back at her in his eyes. He'd almost said it earlier, she knows he almost said it… but he'd stopped. And that has her stopping.

Until she sees hope slowly filling his eyes, until she feels that he's holding his breath, like he's not sure he's hearing things correctly.

She's speaking before she can stop herself.

"Knowing you has changed my life," Felicity whispers. "It changes it every day, makes it better, in ways I didn't even know was possible. Not until I met you. And knowing I get you, and that we have Ellie…" She takes a breath. "Oliver, I don't want this to be because of everything that's happened, because so much happened so, so fast, but I can't… I need you to know that I want this. I want you, because… because I love you."

Oliver's face opens up at that, surprise and hope and love shining back at her, and she laughs a little, shaking her head.

"I love you. I think I have for a really, really long time, and…"

"God, I love you too," Oliver exhales with a rush of emotion, the words so intense and so full of feeling that she feels them in her own bones as his hands come up to cup her face.

"Yeah?" she asks, even though she knows. His hands are shaking again, his thumbs brushing over her cheeks, and he's staring at her like… like… like she just handed him the key to everything.

It's a lot… but she wants it. She wants it all.

"Yeah," he whispers, nodding, leaning forward until his lips are brushing hers. His stubble scrapes against her, deliciously soft, his breath coming out in tiny pants. His skin breaks out in goosebumps that she can feel under her fingertips and she steps closer until she's pressed fully against him, cupping the back of his neck. "Yeah."

"Oliver," she breathes, pushing herself up on her toes to get closer to him, but he holds back, like he's savoring it, and it's just enough to make her whisper, "I'm pretty sure this is the part where you kiss me."

He chuckles, the smile staying on his lips as he does just that.

She meets him halfway.

The instant his lips touch hers, the rest of the world slips away, leaving nothing but them, in a haze of love and peace and warmth and home.

The kiss stays soft, gentle, his hands cradling her close, and it brings tears to her eyes how precious she feels in that moment. She feels cherished and loved… like as long as they have each other, they can do anything.

It's intoxicating and terrifying and amazing all at the same time, making her knees actually feel weak in a surge of adrenaline that has her holding him tighter. But before she can catch up with the flutter of emotions filling her, before she can fully contemplate what she's feeling, she wants more.

She needs more. This isn't just want. It's more than that. It's denied attraction rearing its head. It's years of pushing her feelings down, not letting them control her. It's telling herself over and over that all of those feelings were one-sided and that one day the dreams would stop, the thoughts would stop, her feelings would go away… It's realizing now that it's more, that it's always been more, and that she wants it all, she wants this future with Oliver and she will do anything to have it.

It fills her up, fills every fiber of her being, and she's helpless against it.

The need crackles under her skin, suddenly sparking to life in a way that has her moaning, kissing him harder, wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing the full length of her body against his - was he always this huge? He seems bigger than life when he towers over her, taking over everything. She feels like she's getting swept up in him and she wants nothing more than to dive in, to let go.

And he's hard, his body is an unmovable mass that melts under her touch, always under her touch… She'd be lying to herself if she didn't admit that she'd noticed it before, how he reacted when she touched him, whether it was a hand graze or when she was patching up one of his wounds. He melts for her, this man who stands up against the strongest forces in the city, who stands between danger and innocent lives, who doesn't back down because he knows it's the right choice… It's more than she could have imagined, the way he molds himself to her, fitting against her like they were made for each other.

It's a lot, and it's happening fast, really fast, but she doesn't want it to stop. She doesn't.

So she gives in. She lets him in completely.

Oliver groans, a rough, "Felicity," slipping out before he drops his hands, one sliding down her neck to her shoulder, his fingers slipping under her t-shirt as the other falls down her side. Felicity shivers when he brushes over her ribs, his thumb slipping along the underside of her breast. It's so innocent but so intimate at the same time, and she moans, arching her back to press her chest against his as she pushes a hand up into his sweat-dampened hair.

Her nails scrape over his scalp, eliciting a bodily shiver from him, and she lifts a leg to get closer to him - the growing bulge in his pants presses against her in a way that has a desperate gasp falling from her lips as she arches into him for more. It's a living thing deep inside her, controlling everything, guiding everything, demanding more… and she's completely powerless against it.

And so is he, something she doesn't realize fully until he suddenly tightens his grip on her, pulling her closer, his arms wrapping around her, his hands fisting her t-shirt. The move has her shirt riding up, exposing her lower back and when his fingertips feel her naked skin, he gasps, slipping his hand underneath it. He goes all the way up, his fingers slipping under her bra, following her spine like it's the only thing they were made to do.

He's everywhere, and she's spinning, unwilling to stop kissing him to catch her breath. He feels so good, he tastes so good, so much better than she could have imagined. How is it possible that every single kiss only gets better, only makes her crave more?

She doesn't even feel him moving until his other hand slips around her and he grips her through her jeans, tightly, digging his fingers in, pushing her closer just as much as he's feeling her, and both have her heart leaping right out of her chest with anticipation and something else that makes her limbs feel weak.

Felicity pushes herself up on her toes to get closer to him, and his grip on her tightens as he moves his hips…

"Oh… god," she moans, struggling to breathe, pressing her forehead against his, sensation taking over. It's so much more, so much more than she could've ever imagined…

So good, so, so good.

Don't stop…

But before she can feel anymore, before she can reciprocate, before she can hear the same noise from him, Oliver freezes. Felicity pulls back just enough to see his face, to see his eyes closed, his breathing harsh and uneven, his muscles coiled…

He looks like he's ready to snap and the reality of what they'd been heading right into without any emergency brakes on hits her.

"This is not exactly where I imagined making love to you for the first time," he says, and it takes her a second to realize he's smiling. A second after that, his words catch up with her and her mouth goes dry at how deep his voice is when he says 'making love.'

Oliver pulls back, not letting her go, just enough to see her and the smile that lights up her face matches his.

"So you've thought about it, huh?" she asks and he chuckles.

"Once or twice," he replies cheekily. His eyes narrow, a whole new meaning in the look he's giving her, and suddenly the quiet moment turns into something heated all over again.

Felicity takes an unsteady breath and his eyes drop to her lips, darkening in a way that makes her stomach swoop. They're still wrapped around each other, her hands buried in his hair, her leg around his. His hands are still on her, one buried in her shirt, his other holding her close enough that she feels all of him.

A deep flush sweeps over her and she swallows.

"This isn't exactly what I had in mind either," she admits breathlessly. "That's not to say this gym isn't wicked seductive. I mean, the fluorescent lights alone…"

Oliver chuckles under his breath before nodding. "We should get back upstairs."

"Yeah." Felicity swallows. "Upstairs."

It seems so far away though. Too far away.

Neither of them lets go. Oliver's lids grow heavy, his skin warming even more under her touch. She grips his hair as he slowly slides his hand further down her backside, down her curves until his fingers brush against her center.

She whimpers, her hips surging forward and his eyes slip shut as she rubs right where he needs her… right where she needs him.

"Felicity," he breathes, his voice cracking, and the sound of his own desperate need is her undoing.

They move at the same time.

His lips crash against hers, swallowing her gasp, as he yanks her against his chest, nearly lifting her off her feet. Felicity's fingers tighten in his hair as she opens for him and Oliver drops his arm, grasping her waist…

Oliver picks up her up effortlessly, their lips never losing contact, his hand slipping further between her legs for leverage, making her center clench with a need that makes her whine. Felicity winds her legs around him, pulling him flush against her, the combined heat growing between them making them both hold on harder. His mouth moves against hers, his stubble scraping when he angles his head to kiss her deeper, to kiss her harder.

The sensations washing over her are intense, heady, and she's powerless against them, completely powerless. He's a hurricane sweeping through her, turning everything inside her upside down in ways she never, ever could have imagined and it's intoxicating.

She doesn't feel him moving until he starts to lower them to the ground. He winces when he puts weight on his knee and she pulls back with a, "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay," he whispers roughly, his lips finding hers again, as insatiable as she is.

Oliver lays her down, holding all of her weight like it's nothing, and that alone has her stomach fluttering as he gently sets her on the ground before blanketing her body with his.

His next thrust is perfect, right against her center, and she breaks the kiss off with a low keen, her mouth falling open, her head falling back. She locks her ankles behind his back, using it to meet his tiny thrusts, and it doesn't matter that they're both wearing jeans, that the sensations should be muted or painful or something, because she doesn't feel anything but him.

"Oh god," he breathes, pushing his hands into her hair, cradling her head. His cheek scrapes over hers, sending heat racing through her, right for her core, and she turns into him as he whispers, "God, Felicity…"

"Oliver," she manages before her lips find his again.

They move together, fast and hard, both lost in the pleasure blossoming between them. He's so hot where he hovers over her, pressing himself right where she needs and god, it feels so good, so good. Felicity's hands sprawl out over his back, holding on as she urges him closer, her hips rising to meet his. He chokes on a groan, the sound rumbling through his chest as they both rub harder.

Need surges through her veins in a white hot rush, and it only grows hotter and hotter...

Felicity breaks first.

With a sharp, "Aah!", pleasure explodes deep in her core, radiating out through her body in waves that leave her breathless. Her back arches off the ground, her hips moving without rhythm, her nails digging into his shoulders. He holds onto her tighter, his fingers gripping her hair as his other hand slides down her body to grip her thigh, lifting her higher, his hips moving faster.

It's amazing - beautiful - and it only sends her higher.

His name is a litany on her lips as he chases his own release, and she melts under him, trying to breathe, trying to hold on, every inch of her shaking. Oliver buries his face in her neck, his breath hot against her skin, and she lifts her legs higher, opening herself more…

It barely takes a few thrusts before he's falling over the edge with her, a beautifully breathless, "Felicity!" on his lips as he shudders, his hips moving mindlessly until he's spent.

Oliver barely keeps himself from collapsing on top of her, his chest digging into hers, his face pressed against her shoulder. She's just as dazed, and her eyes are heavy, so heavy.

That was…

Wow.

Felicity strokes the back of his neck, turning her face into his.

"So that just happened," she whispers.

Oliver chuckles tiredly, lifting his head to give her wet kiss.

"Yeah," he says. He kisses her again and again, his muscles trembling, before he shakes his head with a little laugh. "I feel like I'm in high school."

Felicity giggles under her breath, biting her bottom lip. "I'm glad. I mean, I'm not glad you feel like you're in high school. Or, maybe I am because that was kind of amazing, not that dry humping was exactly how I saw this going down… nor did I ever think I'd ever be saying that to you." He chuckles. "But I'm glad it happened. Is that weird?"

"No." Oliver says, shaking his head, knowing exactly what she's saying. "Because I am too."

"Good."

Felicity cups his face, pulling him down for a lingering kiss that she feels through her entire body, and he melts against her, the kisses slowly turning into soft, chaste pecks that fall away to Oliver leaning over her, his forehead pressed against her.

"I should clean up a bit," he whispers.

She hums, a knowing smile on her lips before nodding. "Yeah. And sleep. Sleep sounds good."

Oliver nods his agreement, kissing her one more time before he finally moves. He gets up slowly, tugging her with him. Their moves are languid and they hold on to each other as long as possible, neither really wanting to let go… but they do, readjusting clothes. Oliver grabs his shirt, pulling it back over his head, and she licks her lips as she watches him.

There's a new intimacy between them, something tentative but real. Warmth still radiates through her body, pleasure humming along her nerves. They don't leave room for awkward pauses, Oliver just takes her hand and tugs her towards the door.

When Felicity glances at their intertwined fingers with a quiet smile, he does the same.

He stiffens when he sees them. His are still coated in dried blood, swollen from taking his frustrations out on the bag. She absently wonders if there's blood on the punching bag.

The withdrawn look is back and she stops, pulling on his hand to do the same.

"Hey, you okay?" she asks.

"Yeah," he replies. "I'm okay."

 


 

 

They make their way upstairs.

Oliver keeps her close, and he wonders if she minds how tightly he's holding her hand. The shock of seeing his bloodied skin against her clean skin is just as jarring as it had been earlier, and while it'd made him want to hold her even tighter, like her presence could erase the damage he'd done to himself, it'd also shoved him right back into the very reason he'd been downstairs in the first place, eradicating the simple peace he'd felt for the last few minutes.

"I love you."

She loves him. She loves him.

Oliver's heart stutters at her words all over again, like he's hearing them again for the first time. And she'd said it like it was the most natural and obvious thing in the world.

She loves him.

It'd taken him a few seconds to fully realize what they'd just done. It was… he didn't even have words. And it'd been so simple, so easy, and with almost anyone else he would have been wondering what the hell they were thinking but with Felicity… the way she'd made him feel, how good, how alive. And after, he'd wanted to do nothing more than sink into her arms and never leave. He'd felt so relaxed, content… all because of her.

It was astounding - it still is - and it softens the stab in his gut when he thinks about tomorrow, about what his mother wants him to say.

"No. Absolutely not, you can't possibly be asking me to say Ellie isn't… that she isn't mine. She is. And I won't."

"Oliver…"

"No… no, I'm not… They can't have her. They don't get this. I'm not-"

"It's the best option and it's the safest. Think about Ellie, about Felicity, and what being connected to the Queen name right now means for them."

"That's not why I'm-"

"It needs to be. Your focus needs to be on their safety."

"Their safety is the only thing I care about."

"Good. Then you can recognize that it's not exactly safe for them right now or - by extension - for us."

"Us?"

"Don't look at me like that, Oliver you know that's not what I meant. This is going to cause havoc, havoc we simply cannot afford."

"You mean havoc you can't afford."

"Have you so easily forgotten about the company? Or that Isabel has very nearly taken everything from us?"

"No, but in comparison that's not-"

"Good. Then we will hold a press conference and you will explain that Ellie is Felicity's daughter, and not yours."

"I can't do that. I can't… No, I can't. I won't. I already… she's my daughter."

"You can, Oliver, and you will… because it's the best thing you can do for them. Now, explaining Felicity's role will be slightly more problematic, seeing as she was your assistant, but you can simply say… that it became more than that. You kept it professional because she worked for you but now that she doesn't, now that your work situation has changed, you're together and you're happy… Happy enough to invite her daughter into your life."

She'd rendered him speechless with that. He'd clenched his jaw as he went through the motions, went through every angle, every possibility… but the worst part was that it made sense, and it'd left a chalky taste in his mouth.

Felicity hadn't done much better.

"That can't be our only option."

"Unfortunately, it is. It's safest, for you and for Ellie."

"But he's her father, if anyone looks hard enough-"

"They'll see a man who has taken a woman and her child into his life, as if they were his own."

"They are his own! I mean we, we are his."

"If you have another suggestion, I'm more than happy to entertain it… but I think you both know this is the only sensible route to take."

Felicity had been gripping his arm so tightly, unconsciously mirroring his grip own on Ellie. His hand had tightened, almost like he wasn't going to let her go for anything, not for any damn thing in the world, to the point their daughter had said, "Ow, daddy, that hurts."

"Sorry, Ellie-bug."

The nickname had slipped out like it was second nature… because it was, because it is. Because that's what he calls his daughter, because that's what his mother had called Thea, and what Thea had called him.

Ellie is his… except now he has to tell the world she isn't.

Because her safety comes first, always.

Oliver grits his teeth.

It's not as bad as earlier, not since Felicity found him, but the disquiet is still there, and he's pretty sure it's going to be there until well after tomorrow morning when he has to get up in front of a group of strangers and tell them…

Even thinking it still hurts.

The feeling makes his gut sink and his mind unwittingly goes right to when he felt like that before this blew up in their faces, back to the look on Thea's face earlier, which only has his chest caving in even more.

Oliver swallows, pushing it all down, squeezing Felicity's hand in his - as much for her reassurance, since the worry line appeared again between her brows, as it's for him. Her smile makes it easier… as does the scene they walk into when they reach his room.

They both pause, Oliver's jaw dropping slightly as he takes in Sara and Ellie sprawled out on the floor in front of the sofa, cushioned by a sea of pillows they'd obviously taken from his bed. Ellie's laying with her head cushioned on Sara's thigh, her little hands twisting the afghan she'd slept with that morning. They're both transfixed on the screen where The Little Mermaid is playing, although he knows without a doubt that Sara knew they were there long before they even reached the stairs.

Ellie's just oblivious.

The simple domesticity of the scene makes his heart ache - with happiness - and suddenly standing up and saying a few words he knows aren't true doesn't seem so bad.

"Hey, you two," Sara says, amusement coloring her tone as she glances at them. Her eyebrows go up and Oliver realizes he didn't even glance in the mirror downstairs. He can only imagine what his hair looks like, what their clothes look like - he didn't look at his jeans, he'd been too preoccupied with Felicity - and if his lips are as beautifully swollen as hers are… He finds he doesn't really care. He knows Sara better than anyone and he knows there aren't any hard feelings on either side. So instead of ducking his head or losing Felicity's hand, he just smiles.

He wants the people in his life to know about them, he needs them to know.

Felicity isn't on that same page yet though, at least as far as Sara's concerned. She tries to untwine their fingers, but he doesn't let her.

Sara's smile doesn't go anywhere as she gently untangles herself from Ellie, who barely reacts, and stands. "Maybe I should stay here and finish the movie with Ellie while you two…"

The insinuation is obvious.

"Oh no, that's not… what we did. Or, I mean… what we're doing," Felicity replies. She laughs and when Oliver glances at her with a patient smile, he knows she's uncomfortable because she ignores him completely. "That's… No."

He tugs her a little closer, much to her chagrin.

Sara chuckles, shaking her head, biting her tongue to keep more comments at bay as she approaches them.

"Your mom had a meeting with her campaign manager so she left Ellie with me," Sara says to Oliver before glancing at them both. "I hope that was okay."

"Of course," Oliver responds. "Always. Besides, there's probably nobody safer she can be with right now anyway."

Sara looks pleased, and he smiles at her - there's no one he'd rather have her with, because he knows she'd do anything to protect Ellie just by virtue of the kind of person she is.

"Ellie already brushed her teeth." Sarah glances back at the little girl. "Didn't even have to ask her."

"She's freakishly good like that, isn't she?" Felicity says, craning her head to look around Sara. Her voice is gentle, like talking about Ellie centers her. "Makes me a little concerned about how the next one will turn out."

He'd almost forgotten she's pregnant in the future. Oliver's stomach flutters as anticipation fills him… along with a little fear as the day's events come roaring back.

"The next one?" Sara asks.

"Oh…" Felicity's jaw drops, her fingers squeezing his.

He steps in, his voice cracking slightly with the weight of what the future holds for them.

"Felicity's pregnant in Ellie's time," he says, and as the words come out, as they settle in the silence around them, he can't keep the smile off his face, one that Sara mirrors.

"With a boy," Felicity interjects, almost like it's involuntary because her mouth snaps shut a second later.

"It's…" Oliver turns to her. "It's a boy?"

"Ellie told me, I guess I didn't…" she fills in, and when Oliver can only stare at her in wonder, she grins, a beautiful involuntary grin that lights up her entire face. "Surprise."

"Wow," he manages, shaking his head. A boy? They're having a boy? Somehow it's more real now, that she's pregnant, knowing that it's a little boy, that they're adding to their family… that Ellie will have a little brother on the way. For a second he forgets everything that's happening around him and stares at Felicity, trying to grasp the thought of a boy. Another baby. A baby boy. "Wow."

Felicity's face softens and she pinches her lips slightly, nodding. "Yeah. Wow."

Sara doesn't say anything as she steps closer to them, clasping their shoulders. She pushes up into her toes to kiss Oliver's cheek before kissing Felicity's.

"I'm happy for you guys," she says. She squeezes Oliver's shoulder for emphasis, and he knows what she's saying - 'this is everything you deserve, and I'm glad you have it.'

"Thank you," he replies.

Felicity's voice is quiet as she says, "Thank you… that… means a lot…"

Coming from you.

Sara smiles as if she'd heard the unspoken words and nods before stepping back. "I'm gonna go do another round through the house, make sure it's locked up tight. I'll see you guys in the morning."

In the morning. The press conference. And just like that, the heavy feeling of lead is back in his stomach.

"Yeah," he responds faintly. "See you in the morning."

Sara turns back to Ellie, calling out, "Bye, munchkin," with a little wave.

"Bye," the toddler vaguely responds.

Sara chuckles. She gives Felicity and Oliver a nod before leaving, closing the door softly behind her.

The first thing he wants to do is go to his daughter, but not like he this, not with his hands chafed and bloody. They're finally starting to hurt, like Felicity's words downstairs have started sinking in.

"I'm gonna go clean up," Oliver says, pressing his lips to Felicity's temple. "I'll be right back."

"Hurry back," she whispers, leaning into his lips when he kisses her again.

And he does hurry.

The thought of being away from his family for one more second is almost unbearable all of a sudden, which is a stark contrast to earlier when he'd had to get away for fear that he might explode. He'd just needed to hit something, break something… anything that wasn't going outside and working his way through the crowd that was steadily growing at the gates to the Manor. It hadn't been the punching bag he'd seen, but every single face out there, the two assholes at Verdant…. Isabel… Slade.

It hadn't helped a single thing. If anything, it'd only pissed him off more, churning the anger and frustration and desire to do the exact opposite of what his mother was suggesting… but he knew how stupid it was, he still knows it. That knowledge didn't dampen the simmering rage in the pit of his stomach; it'd only made him hit harder.

Until Felicity.

He hadn't realized how much he'd craved her absolution, her rationality… her forgiveness. He hadn't been able to forgive himself - he still doesn't, he probably won't ever - but her clemency… he'd needed it, with a desperation that'd socked him in the gut, leaving him breathless until she'd shined her light on him.

But Felicity's right, she's so right.

He will do what he has to for Ellie, there's no doubt about that.

Still… what kind of man - what kind of father - denies his own child? How is that a thing that's ever okay?

And what will Ellie think?

God, that might haunt him more than anything else in this mess. The thought of her little face twisting in hurt and confusion, how her brow will furrow and her eyes will beg him for answers he can't give. He doesn't want to do that to her, he can't. She's too young, and she won't understand why he has to do this… but she will understand her father saying she isn't his. That she'll get. And he wants more than anything than anything to spare her from that.

She won't be there tomorrow morning though, she won't have to hear it, and he knows Felicity won't let her watch it, for this very reason.

That doesn't make him feel any better.

Oliver washes his hands, avoids looking in the mirror, barely wincing as he scrubs the blood off his hands until the skin is pink and raw. They're bruising, and he curses under his breath - he hadn't even thought to wrap his knuckles when he'd gone downstairs. He'd been too intent to do anything but hit

He dries his hands and leaves the bathroom. He sneaks into the closet, shedding his clothes, pulling on a pair of sweats and a clean t-shirt.

When he steps back out, Oliver has to blink at the sudden lack of light except for the bright glare coming off the large-screen television. Ellie's still in front of the sofa, still watching the movie, and Felicity… His heart skips a beat when he sees where she is, laid out across the foot of the bed, head propped up on hand, watching the movie as well. She's already changed into a pair of yoga pants and the large shirt from last night. It hadn't occurred to him last night to wonder if it was his.

A wave of calmness sweeps over him, settling him.

"I got in trouble," Felicity whispers.

Oliver huffs out a quiet chuckle. "Why?"

"Apparently only Aunt Sara can hang out in front of the TV," Felicity replies, and despite the darkness in the room, Oliver can hear her smile.

"Is that so?" he asks, looking at Ellie where she's laid out. He's moving before he can think twice, heading straight for her. Oliver gets down on his knees - it's easier than it was just this morning, although he still winces when he puts pressure on his injured knee - and whispers, "Hey, Ellie-bug," as he tries to settle in with her.

"No, daddy," Ellie says, pushing on his face when he gets closer to her. She doesn't even look away from the screen as she angles her head to look around him and it's the cutest damn thing ever, feeling her hands pushing on him, both of them knowing he'll go anywhere she asks him to. "I'm watching a movie."

"I see that," Oliver replies. "Can I watch with you?"

"No."

It's simple, clean and so completely dismissive he has to bite his tongue to keep from laughing out loud.

Everything outside this moment, outside of this room, suddenly doesn't exist, as if it was there one second, and just gone the next.

"Oh, okay then," he says, and the amazing part is he has to force the hurt tone in his voice. "Why not?"

"That's Big Sara's spot."

"Right, of course." Oliver nods, leaning over more to see her face, partially blocking the screen, which makes her scowl. "Can I at least get a goodnight kiss?"

Ellie sighs, the sound all exasperation, and sits up just enough to give him a kiss… except she's still trying to watch the movie at the same time and ends up nearly kissing his nose. Oliver adjusts to catch it and it lands on the corner of his mouth. With a chuckle, he pulls her closer so he can press a kiss to her cheek in return.

"Daddy!" she says, squirming to get away from him. "I'm trying to watch Ariel!"

"Okay, okay," Oliver says, putting her back down, but not before kissing the top of her head. "Love you, Ellie-bug."

"Yeah, daddy," she replies distractedly.

Oliver shakes his head with a smile, feeling lighter than he has all afternoon, and pushes himself back to his feet. Getting down like he had reminds his body of the injuries Slade had inflicted on him just that morning - god, was that only a couple hours ago? It feels like an eternity.

He hobbles back to the bed.

"I think someone's a little cranky," Felicity says as Oliver climbs on the bed, laying down behind her, his feet hanging off the edge of the mattress.

He doesn't hesitate anymore, he doesn't wait - Oliver just wraps his arm around her, propping his head up on his hand himself to see the screen as he scoots closer to her, pulling her flush against him. She makes a little noise deep in her chest as she wiggles back, pressing her lower half right against his…

"Felicity," he says, clenching his teeth as his body instantly responds. His hips surge forward, seeking more of the delicious friction he'd only gotten a few seconds of downstairs and he barely stops himself from gripping her hip to hold her right there while he feels oh so much more of her.

He's suddenly very, very aware of how thin his sweats are… and that they are definitely not alone.

"Sorry," she replies with a little smile he can hear in her voice, and he knows she's definitely not sorry. "I'm just getting comfortable."

Oliver exhales slowly, closing his eyes. He tells himself not to move, not to do anything because Ellie's right there and she's very much within earshot… but he can't help himself, and he doesn't want to. For the first time in a long time, he can touch Felicity how he wants to, and she welcomes it, every bit of it. That thought alone is a heady one and his hand's moving before he can tell it not to.

"Oliver…" she starts, her voice full of just as much warning as need. "We can't…"

He smiles. "I'm just getting comfortable."

Felicity snorts.

Oliver presses his hand flat against her stomach, delighting in the soft, round planes as he leans forward, pressing his face against the back of her neck. She inhales sharply, leaning into him without an ounce of hesitation, her hand coming up to cover his, but not to stop him. He takes that as his cue and slides it up, his fingertips brushing against the soft curve her breasts.

They both feel it, feel the promise in his touch, and she leans into him more, her hand covering his urging him higher… He bows his head against her, his lips finding the edge of her shoulder as they both move so slowly it hurts until he's cupping her breast.

"Felicity," he groans, barely cutting himself off before he gets too loud, before they alert Ellie. He grips her lightly, feels her hardening nipple against his palm, a shiver making it pebble even more…

She's stopped breathing, her head falling back, granting him more access, her hand still covering his, urging him to hold her tighter. He can feel her heart pounding against his palm, and it reminds him of how it'd raced that morning, when he'd pillowed his head on her. He hadn't even thought about this at the time, that'd been about reassurance and connection, about just knowing she was there, needing to feel her, especially with the realization that if he'd died, everything would have changed

But now, now it's different. Now she's here, they're together, and she loves him, and he loves her. God, he loves her, so much, and he has loved her, for so long. He's just denied it…

He's done denying it.

Oliver takes a steadying breath, his body growing harder, telling himself to stop, but he doesn't want to. The same desperation he felt downstairs starts to fill him again, making his muscles coil with a need to take her.

He wants her. No, it's more than that, he needs her. He needs to feel her all around him, holding him, cradling him as he fills her, as he connects with her in a way that is… primordial, fundamental… and he knows what's driving it, that it's the fact that he has her, after all this time, but also that Ellie is here, the physical manifestation of their love, and that tomorrow…

Tomorrow.

It hits him like a ton of bricks and he freezes.

"Oliver?"

Felicity turns, wiggling until she's on her back looking up at him. The illumination from the tv casts an ethereal glow over her features, highlighting the concern there.

"I can practically hear those wheels twisting and turning in there," Felicity says, reaching up to tap his temple. He smiles but he knows it doesn't reach his eyes because she cups his cheek, her thumb following the gentle line of his lips. He expects her to reiterate what she said downstairs, but she doesn't. She bites her bottom lip instead, cocking her head before whispering, "It's amazing."

That's not what he was expecting.

Oliver furrows his brow, asking, "What?" His lips move under her thumb, and she doesn't move it. He presses a soft kiss to it, making her smile.

"You," she replies simply, her eyes dancing over his face, and his heart skips a beat at the way she's looking at him, like she's… happy. He takes a stuttering breath as she continues, "It's not fair that you have to get up tomorrow and say all those things, because you…" She takes a deep breath. "You love with your entire heart, Oliver, you always have. And the way you've taken to Ellie, it's… I don't even know how to describe it." She smiles. "You love her so much."

He swallows past the lump in his throat. Her words chip away at the heaviness inside him, slowly but surely, and it disappears even more as she cuddles closer to him, cupping his face with both hands.

She is remarkable, his Felicity, and as she looks up at him - like he's handed her the key to her future, like it isn't the other way around - he lets himself fall into her, lets her be there in a way he's never let anyone else in. A rush of trepidation is quick to fill him, something pulling him back, telling him to wait, but he's done waiting…

She's so strong, so powerful, and she's looking at him like he's the thing she's been waiting for.

He's such a goddamn idiot for telling himself he couldn't have her, for keeping himself away from her.

"Tomorrow doesn't mean anything, Oliver, and it won't, not ever," she continues, "because I know the truth, and Ellie knows the truth. That's all that matters."

The conviction in her voice leaves him speechless. How did he get so lucky, how in the world could he ever be so lucky to have her in his life, to have her want to be in his life, to want to create a life with him, together.

"And if we're being honest," she says. "You're not exactly the best liar, Oliver." He chuckles, shaking his head - how can she not realize that it was her he could never lie to? "So if they actually believe you up there when you say you aren't Ellie's father, then they're just-"

Oliver can't help himself. Before she can get the rest of the words, his lips cover hers.

She's so warm, so soft and perfect, and she fits against him just right, just how he always knew she would.

Felicity is his sanctuary, she has been since he went to her when he was too injured to make it back to the foundry, and even before that, when he went to her for her computer skills. He knew, when Walter recommended her, he knew the second he stepped into her cubicle that she was someone he could go to, turn to, depend on… and it's amazing how much more she's come to mean to him, and not just in the last day.

She's it, the one person he turns to, the one he listens to, the person he lets in without reservation, without even realizing it. There's nobody else, and hearing the way she describes his feelings for Ellie, that she sees that and the way it affects her…

He loves her, so much, and he wants to tell the entire goddamn world. He wants to get up on that podium tomorrow and tell everyone that he has found the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, the woman who lights his way, who guides him and who chose him to build a life with, to have children with. That Ellie is his daughter, and he loves her, he loves both of them…

But he can't, not yet. But someday… someday he can, and it's that realization that finally has the weight lifting off his shoulders.

Felicity moans softly under him and he kisses her more fully, wrapping his arm around her to pull her closer. They both gasp at how hard he is, how sensitive they both are… and how dangerously out of control they're spiralling.

He doesn't want to stop, he really, really doesn't want to stop… but the sound of Ariel and Scuttle talking in the background reminds him that their toddler is in the room.

It sobers him just enough to pull back.

She's breathing heavily, her eyes still closed. Her hands have migrated into his hair and her fingers are curled, tightening for a second - his eyes flutter shut at the sensation, his fingers digging into her in response, and he's on the verge of giving in when she lets go.

Felicity nods a little, licking her lips - and that's a bad idea, a horrible idea on her part, because all he can see for those few seconds is her pink tongue darting out, licking right where he'd been, and he wants to taste her all the more.

"Okay," she breathes, nodding again - she won't stop nodding and he gets that, because it feels like it's for him as much as it's for her. But the way she's looking at him, how dark her eyes are behind her heavy lids… She nods. "Okay."

For a second, she doesn't move, and neither does he. They hold each other a little tighter, tension making the air practically spark between them.

He's gotten a taste, and it wasn't enough, he wants more. He wants to see her as she comes apart, hear more, feel more… but not now, definitely not now. And if he pulled her out of the room or did something idiotic like call Sara back up there to keep Ellie occupied, he knows he wouldn't be able to stop, and neither would she, and the first time he makes love to this woman isn't going to be a quickie in some random bedroom or closet or god, even the bathroom because they couldn't control themselves.

But if he could just…

Oliver groans a barely audible, "Felicity," before he kisses her again, just one more time, and she's right there, meeting him every inch of the way.

It's not enough and it won't be enough, but it has to be. They have time, that's the important part to remember: they have time.

He pulls back before it can go any further and lays back down, forcing his eyes to find the movie. He doesn't see it, he sees none of it - every ounce of his attention is on her as she lays next to him, trying to catch her breath. She's stunning, her mouth open in a soft pant, her hair falling out of her ponytail, her glasses slightly skewed.

Felicity whimpers, so softly he can barely hear it, and he takes a deep breath as she finally rolls onto her side to face the screen.

Oliver almost doesn't move, wondering if he can handle it, but being so close without being able to touch her is a different brand of torture he'd never experienced before. He wraps himself around her again, closing his eyes against the feeling of her soft body pressing against his, ignoring both the urge to chase after that sensation as much as ignoring her little gasp. He kisses the back of her shoulder and then the back of her head, feeling her shiver before he props his head up, his eyes on the screen.

Slowly but surely she relaxes, her heart slowing until it's steady, and he follows her lead. They melt against each other, Felicity's hand coming up to thread her fingers through his where he has it pressed against her chest and he lays his head down, pushing his face against the back of her neck, breathing her in…

He has zero memory of the movie, barely remembers seeing the screen moving - one second he's pretty sure he's watching it and in the next the final scenes of The Little Mermaid are shattering the silence.

Oliver's eyes fly open, blinking against the harsh glare of the screen.

They fell asleep.

He pushes himself up, his feet still hanging off the edge of the bed, peeking over Felicity's shoulder to see she's fast asleep. Her face is smooshed into the blanket, her glasses half off, her arms wrapped around his where it's still holding her tight. He's tired, and it'd be so easy to lay back down, to give in… but another explosion from the screen and Ursula's laughter pierces through his head again. How in the world Felicity is sleeping through this…

Oliver slowly untangles himself from her, climbing off the bed. He's on autopilot, moving to pull the comforter back on her side before moving back to her, gently sliding his arms underneath her and picking her up. His shoulder twinges but it's nothing compared to the feeling of her being in his arms, especially when she snuggles into his chest, murmuring his name.

"Shh," he whispers, setting her down on her side of the bed - no pillows, he needs to grab some pillows. He pulls her glasses off and he smoothes her hair off her forehead, pressing a soft kiss there. The screen is still lighting up the room and he catches her tiny smile and he grabs her hand when she reaches for him, kissing her fingers. "I'm gonna get Ellie and turn the movie off."

"Mm… okay," Felicity says simply, so reminiscent of Ellie it makes him chuckle.

With one last kiss, he heads to where he left her watching the movie, a quiet, "Ellie?" on his lips only to find his daughter gone to the world.

His chest aches when he sees her all twisted around her blanket, her head half off one of the pillows, her body sprawled out like she fell asleep in mid-run. He leans down, scooping her up, afghan and all.

She's so small in his arms, so tiny, and he kisses her head, warmth filling him when she scrunches her nose before burrowing her face into his shoulder. A second later, she's asleep again, dead weight against his chest as he cradles her close, turning the tv off.

He barely remembers to grab a few pillows but he does, taking them with him, narrowly missing their pillow castle as he makes his way back to the bed.

Felicity's already pulled the blanket back for him. He tosses the pillows towards the headboard before laying Ellie down. She's like a limp ragdoll and Felicity's responding chuckle is so sleepy and natural, so gorgeous it makes him laugh. She pulls the little girl closer to the middle of the bed, smoothing her wild curls out of the way as he joins them.

Before he lays down, Oliver leans over Ellie's tangle of limbs towards Felicity.

"C'mere," he whispers and with a happy hum, Felicity meets him halfway, just as they've been doing all night - it feels good, it feels right. Their lips meet in a lingering kiss. He smiles, kissing her again before whispering against her lips, "I love you."

He feels her bite her lip, feels her skin warming against him and he can't help but kiss her again. God, he could kiss her forever.

"I love you, too."

Chapter Text

 

 

Felicity wakes first.

She never wakes up this early, not without an alarm clock forcing the issue. Working late into the evening - or, at times, early morning - is a habit that predates her association with Oliver by quite a bit and she's not sure she will ever fully shake the need to make up for the sleep she forgoes in favor of her nighttime habits. So when she wakes up, blinking against a single ray of way-too-early morning sunlight shining right across her eyes, she knows what the culprit is. Who in the world doesn't close the curtains when they go to sleep? That was going to be changing.

With a low groan, Felicity scrunches her face up, trying to get away from the sun… but it's too late.

She's awake.

"I hate mornings," she whispers to herself, shaking her head, turning to bury her face back into her pillow. Except she's not using a pillow. Rather, she's not using a pillow as a pillow. She's using an Oliver as a pillow. Felicity opens her eyes, blinking at the chest she left a little drool on.

Oliver.

The day before comes rushing back, starting with Slade and then the cameras and then Thea and then the media… finding Oliver in the gym downstairs and then…

Her mouth forms a little 'o' at what happened last night and a swath of heat cuts right through her. She'd never, ever felt anything like that before, that mind-bending need filling her until all she could think about - all that mattered - was touching him, feeling him. They'd damn near attacked each other. A shiver falls down her spine. It'd been raw - base - an actual need in her fingers to feel more of him, to touch more, to have more…

Felicity takes a shaky breath, her heart racing. It had to be a culmination of the day's events, from the stress of what Slade had been doing before Ellie even showed.

And then Ellie…

Ellie, who isn't in bed, and who she now vaguely hears singing to herself - it's not really a song so much as random noises in a melodic tone - from inside the pillow fort.

Pillow castle.

The memory of Oliver reminding her of that makes her smile as she looks at him. She's never seen him sleep. In the entire time she's known him, she's never seen him like this of his own volition. Sure, she's seen him knocked out or tranquilized, but never resting. He's laid out on his back, his face turned towards her, one hand on his stomach, still tangled in some of her hair where it'd fallen out of her ponytail in the middle of the night. His other hand that had been curled around her is sprawled out on the mattress, loose and relaxed. Easy. At peace.

She doesn't want to wake him for anything.

If this is how Felicity wakes up every single morning in the future, she's pretty sure she can handle anything the world wants to throw at her. Including incredibly nosy reporters and semi-homicidal women - well, she's assuming homicidal. Isabel strikes her as being on that level.

Felicity smiles, touching his cheek softly before leaning over him, pressing a kiss to his forehead. He sighs, his hands moving like he's reaching for her before he settles again. She slips out of bed as quietly as she can, leaning down to kiss the palm of his hand before putting her glasses on and turning to her daughter. She's moving around in the fort, like she's rearranging, and it's a little shocking how awesome this kid is that she can wake up and let her parents sleep in, at three. They definitely do something right.

She lifts the sheet up and pokes her head in.

Ellie lets out a little shriek that slices through the calm morning air, jumping with a giggle and a, "Momma monster!"

A bolt of panic hits her and Felicity's instantly on her knees, crawling into the fort, a finger to her lips as she whispers, "Shhh!" She reaches Ellie, who's still giggling, and scoops her up into her lap. "Keep it down, crazy girl. Daddy's still sleeping."

"Oooh," Ellie replies, the word dying in a whisper as she pinches her lips together. Felicity smooths down her crazy bed hair as she asks, "Is daddy sick?"

The innocent question almost catches her off guard.

"Uh, no, he's okay. He's just really tired," Felicity says. "So, we should be really quiet, okay?"

"Okay," Ellie says with a definitive nod, far more agreeable than she was the night before.

Felicity glances around to see what she'd been up to and sees that she'd found the box of toys Raisa had set out for her. She's nested. The realization warms her chest, both because it's so cute but also because she's comfortable. She isn't in her own time, but she's making the best of it. It's amazingly optimistic.

"Momma, I'm hungry."

"Me too," Felicity admits. "Should we go see what's downstairs?"

Ellie nods with a chipper, "Yeah!"

Of course, the place Slade had attacked them is the place where the food lives. Although judging by the way it'd looked last night, Moira had to have a magic wand stashed on her person somewhere because when Felicity had glanced in there during dinner, it'd looked like nothing had ever happened. Which only made it creepier. And like the freakish little Queen she was, Ellie had run in there after Oliver when he'd taken the dirty dishes in like nothing traumatizing had happened at all.

Kids were like rubber, it seemed, things bouncing off of them like crazy. She was pretty sure hers was made of super rubber because if she'd seen any of that when she'd been younger, she'd be needing therapy.

Oh god, what if Ellie needs therapy when she's older because of what's already happened to her here?

That's a cheerful thought.

"Do you need to go to the bathroom?" Felicity asks as they climb out of the tent - no, castle.

Ellie shakes her head. "I already went."

"Okay, well, hold on while I go, okay?"

Felicity's in and out in the blink of an eye, reaching a hand out to Ellie who takes it with flourish. She glances back at the bed to see Oliver hasn't budged an inch, his breathing still deep and even. It occurs to her that if she woke up and the room was empty, she'd probably freak out a little bit.

Oliver might turn the room upside down.

"Hold on, Ellie-bug," Felicity says, leaving her by the door. She grabs a sticky note from his desk, pausing when she sees them - they're multi-colored and shaped like animals. She raises an eyebrow. They're a shock of color in the sensible sparse space, not something she'd ever expect to see on his desk…

Probably because they're hers. From the office. Felicity's heart skips a beat. When had he taken them?

A heady emotion fills her chest as she scribbles a quick, 'Downstairs,' on it before moving back to the bed. Ellie follows with avid interest, standing on her toes to watch as Felicity leans over and puts the bright blue sticky note right on his forehead.

Ellie giggles. "He looks silly."

Felicity nods with her own giggle. "He does, doesn't he?" She swoops down, picking Ellie up. "Let's go get some breakfast."

"And coffee!" Ellie says, her voice carrying through the room.

Felicity looks back long enough to see that Oliver hasn't stirred before she shuts the door.

"Oh, there will be coffee," Felicity agrees, throwing her fist in the air, which Ellie mimics as they make their way down the hall. "All the coffee!"

"All the coffee!"

Felicity almost goes to the front window to see if the reporters are still outside - it was honestly shocking how large the crowd had grown the night before, like what exactly were they expecting to catch a picture of from so far away? - but she ignores the urge, instead heading straight for the kitchen.

She's painfully aware of the cameras, her mind automatically cataloguing them as she walks through the house, knowing exactly where each one is.

There isn't one in the kitchen, thank the Google gods.

"So what's for breakfast?" Felicity asks, her mind flipping through the very limited array of things she can make without burning or rendering completely inedible. "How about some nice, yummy toast!"

"Can we have daddy's waffles?"

"Daddy's asleep, baby, remember?"

"But we didn't get them yesterday."

Felicity's breath catches at that - right, Slade - and she nods. "How about we ask daddy to get up extra early tomorrow and make them? How does that sound? With extra strawberries."

"Like… twenty strawberries?" Ellie asks as Felicity pushes through the door into the kitchen. "Or a hundred?"

"A hundred strawberries? Wow, you are as ambitious as your father," Felicity says, shaking her head, tweaking Ellie's nose. "If you think you can eat…"

They aren't alone.

She smells food cooking and coffee brewing first, followed by the clink of silverware on a plate. Felicity stops dead in her tracks, looking up, ready to apologize to Moira Queen - already knowing before the words come out how ridiculous that is, but she can't help it - when she sees it's not her at all.

Sara smiles at them from where she's sitting at the bar, a newspaper open before her.

"Big Sara!" Ellie exclaims, wiggling in Felicity's arms to be let down, so much that Felicity doesn't have much choice in the matter and has to let go before her daughter nosedives straight for the floor.

"Good morning," Sara says, a smile on her lips. She watches Ellie run over and climb up on the stool next to her. "Hi there, munchkin."

"Hi," Ellie replies. When she sees the plate of eggs in front of Sara, her eyes widen, matching the wonder in her voice. "You made eggs."

"I sure did. Do you want some?"

"Can I?" she asks, her eyes flying to Felicity.

A wild thought flits through Felicity's head: is there etiquette when it comes to her boyfriend's ex-girlfriend's eggs?

Boyfriend.

Whoa.

"Is that… okay?" Felicity asks Sara, who cocks her head slightly as she looks at her. She knows she's being weird, she knows it, but she can't help it. Her stomach still clenches uncomfortably under her knowing eyes, especially because she and Oliver had just been a thing, not even that long ago.

It's weird.

"It's more than okay," Sara says. "I made way too much anyway." She glances at Ellie. "I'm lucky you guys came down when you did, otherwise I'd be eating eggs for days."

"That's a lot of eggs," Ellie says before nodding solemnly. "You'd have a tummy ache."

Sara chuckles.

Felicity scoops two plates worth of eggs - Sara wasn't lying, she'd made a lot - and carries them over to the bar. Ellie's face lights up when she gets her very own plate and when Felicity hands her a fork, she picks it up delicately. The Queens don't do things halfway - the fork is heavy and Ellie has to hold it awkwardly to keep it from slipping out of her grasp, but she manages. Felicity takes the next barstool, nodding her thanks when Sara slides her part of the paper.

"Is the captain here?" Ellie asks. She looks at Felicity, who just blinks - who now? - and continues, as if this is all the explanation she'll ever need. "He's very silly. He calls me kiddo, like, 'Kiddoooo.' And he makes me ice castles. Like Elsa's! It's very fun."

The captain? Kiddo? Ice castles? Felicity furrows her brow at Sara in question, but she just shrugs. Ah, it was future fun facts time it seemed.

"No," Sara replies, shaking her head. "He's not here, munchkin. Just me."

"Oh," Ellie says, picking up a piece of egg with her fork. "Can he come next time?"

"Uh… sure," Sara says. "I'll be sure to ask him."

"Good."

They both watch her as Ellie starts slowly eating her breakfast, swinging her feet, the movement making the few curls that aren't a total tangled mess bounce. Sara's brow is furrowed as she stares at Ellie, her face unreadable. It isn't entirely out of the norm, except now there is something more… wistful there.

The words are out before Felicity can stop them.

"Is it weird?"

Sara shakes her head, her eyes never leaving Ellie.

"No, it's just… the way she was looking at me when she first got here," she explains, misreading her question, and Felicity realizes she wasn't exactly specific. Sara shrugs, but Felicity can see the assumptions she must have made coloring her face. "I wasn't sure she knew who I was. But then last night she asked me if I brought bad guys with me, like I always do."

Felicity's heart lurches, remembering Ellie's words: "I like Big Sara, but I don't like when she comes 'cause it's always badness."

"Seems like future me gets into a lot of fun," Sara finishes with a tight smile.

Felicity offers her own smile. "She was talking about you yesterday."

Sara looks at her, her eyebrows going up, her face lighting up in a way Felicity's pretty sure she doesn't even realize is happening. "She was?"

"Yeah. 'Big Sara.'"

"Big Sara," she repeats, drawing the name out. The way her smile grows tells Felicity she likes it. "I assume that means there's a Little Sara running around somewhere?"

"Yes," Felicity responds, "although not like your Little Sara. You don't have a Little Sara, or maybe you do, I don't know, but… No. John and Lyla's Sara. They have a Sara."

"No kidding," Sara says with a little laugh. "Well, good for them. Good name choice."

"Yeah." Felicity smiles, reaching out to brush some hair off Ellie's forehead. "I guess she and Ellie are close." She bites her lip, pushing her eggs around. "That's… not exactly what I was asking."

A tiny smile pulls at Sara's lips, and a rush of foolishness fills Felicity. She knew exactly what she was asking.

"You meant you and Ollie?" She doesn't give Felicity the chance to respond as she nods. "It was surprising, but only in the way that a guy in a red suit can run through time and he also happens to carry toddlers like little stowaways."

That is nothing close to what she was expecting to hear.

"I've been places," Sara says, "and I've seen some very interesting things, but this definitely takes the cake. So far, at least."

"Well… I meant-"

"It wasn't surprising," Sara interrupts, and Felicity meets her gaze. It's steady, her eyes clear. "I mean, yeah, I didn't think it would be something like this that made it finally happen, but…" She shakes her head. "No, not surprising."

"Really?" Felicity asks. "I mean, I'm not saying it's a bad thing, or a good thing even, or… I'm just… Oliver… you guys were…"

"Placeholders," Sara fills in. "Ollie and I… we weren't meant to last. I think we both knew I couldn't give him what he needed."

"What he… what he needed?" Felicity repeats, her heart climbing up her throat.

"There's a light in him," Sara says. "It's… real. It's something that makes him a hero."

Felicity smiles at that.

"And I've never seen it shine as brightly as it does when he's around you."

Her heart stops.

"Ollie gravitates to you, like a magnet, and he doesn't even realize he's doing it."

Sara's smile is serene, her voice full of wonder… and her words from last night come back: "I'm happy for you guys." She is. She's happy for him, for them, happy he's found something she couldn't give him.

The anxiety finally starts to dissipate.

"You bring it out in him," Sara continues. "You help him be better, help him become the person he wants to be. I can't do that for him any more than he can do that for me. We're too much alike for that."

"So no, it wasn't surprising. Oliver deserves this life." As if on cue, Ellie shifts, her little lip disappearing into her mouth as she concentrates on collecting every bit of scrambled egg on her plate. Sara smiles down at her before looking at Felicity again. "It's the life only you can give him, Felicity. And that makes me happy."

A soft smile tugs at Felicity's lips, and when Sara sees it, she nods, and just like that, things are okay.

Oliver chooses that exact moment to enter the kitchen and as all three women look up at him, Felicity has to wonder how much of that he heard.

"Daddy!" Ellie greets, her face breaking out in a giant grin as he approaches them.

"Good morning," he says, walking around until he's behind Ellie, who he picks up, making her squeal in delight before taking her seat, settling her in his lap. He leans over to Felicity, his face drawn in a sleepy but content smile and she's moving in to meet him halfway without a second thought, like only they exist, like they've done this a hundred times before already. They share a quick, chaste kiss, and it's just as much a good morning as it's a reminder of what they shared the night before. "Thank you for the note."

"Of course." Felicity raises an eyebrow. "We do need to talk about this stealing my sticky notes thing though. I was particularly fond of the monkey ones and they disappeared awfully fast. Now I have a solid theory as to why."

He gives her a look that has her stomach plummeting before winking - he winks at her - and then he leans back.

When he looks at Sara, they share a look, one full of meaning, meaning Felicity can't ever hope to fully grasp… and gratitude.

Sara rolls her eyes, shaking her head as she whispers, "Eavesdropper."

Oliver chuckles, his voice still roughened with sleep, holding Ellie closer. "Thank you."

Sara just raises an eyebrow with a knowing look.

"Big Sara made eggs, daddy," Ellie says, pulling his attention back to her. "They were really good."

"She did, huh?" Oliver asks, looking at Ellie's empty plate. His face melts into a faux-offended look as he leans over, making a show of inspecting her plate. "Did you eat them all?"

"No," Ellie replies with a giggle.

"But I don't see any eggs," Oliver says. He tickles her, making her giggle even more. "You ate all the eggs."

"No, I didn't!" Ellie giggles, shoving on his hands, squirming to get away. "No! Daddy, there's tons, go look!" Her laughter echoes through the room, making them all grin and laugh along. It's impossible not to, Felicity realizes - she's an actual ball of sunshine, their daughter, and Oliver is just as addicted as she is. "Momma, make him stop!"

But her words are halfhearted at best. It's clear she utterly adores being the center of her father's attention as she laughs and smiles up at him without a care in the world, wriggling closer instead of further away. Nothing in the world could make Felicity interrupt the quiet, perfect bonding moment. They'll be few and far between today and she's not sure which of them will need it more.

There's a glint of mischievousness that lights up Ellie's eyes as she goes from tugging at her father's fingers to sticking her little hands under his arms, trying to tickle him back. It's ridiculous, and it has Felicity laughing even harder as the little girl tries to get him to crack under the pressure. It's made even better because Ellie clearly hasn't yet grasped the subtlety of tickling and just digs her fingers into her father's armpits as hard as she can.

He laughs anyhow, more at her attempting to turn the tables on him than anything else, she's sure, but it's beautiful nonetheless.

Felicity thinks she'd like to see him laugh like that every day for the rest of her life. If she's lucky, she just might get to. The reality of that warms something deep inside her chest; it makes her heart feel light, her whole world seem a little brighter.

"Okay, Ellie-bug," Oliver announces, his laughter still shining through his voice. "You win, baby girl. You got me."

A smile of tremendous satisfaction lights up her face and she drops her hands, snuggling into her father's chest. She rests her cheek against him like he's her pillow - he is - and she looks up at him, adoration shining from her eyes.

"It's 'cause you taught me, daddy," she tells him sagely, sharing the credit. "Even if you don't 'member it right now."

"For me it hasn't happened yet," he reminds her, running his fingers through her curls. The sight of this giant man being so incredibly gentle tugs at something deep in Felicity's chest as he works out some of the snarls in her hair. "Remember? You came back in time?"

"Oh… I guess," she says, shrugging one tiny shoulder. It doesn't make sense to her, not really. It can't. Honestly, it barely makes sense to Felicity and she's beyond the term 'well-educated.' Ellie's not done as she snuggles closer. "It'll be fun when you teach me, daddy. I promise. You're a very good teacher and the bestest daddy ever. You'll see."

Felicity bites her lip to keep herself from making a sound, and the sudden burst of love that sparks in her chest is nothing compared to the look on Oliver's face as he stares down at his daughter, hanging on her every word. He needs this, needs his daughter's easy acceptance and love of him more than anything else to get him through today, more than he needs her, even. He needs Ellie telling him how great her life is because of him, he needs her showing him over and over again that she loves him, that he's a wonderful father, and he needs to believe it.

And for this tiny moment, she thinks he does. Because she does.

Oliver's arms curl around Ellie, making her seem even smaller as she settles in his embrace like there's nowhere else in the world she'd rather be. He breathes out, a long, slow exhale that seems to carry the tension living in his body along with it before he dips his head to press his lips to her hair. He breathes her in, savoring the moment of closeness.

Felicity lets out a tremulous breath herself as Ellie does something for him that nobody else on this planet ever could, something she's been doing ever since Barry brought her back. Slowly but surely Ellie's filling in the cracks that have splintered his heart, shattered his sense of self-worth, letting the damage from all those years of brutal trauma fade away. Breakfast is forgotten as something far more sustainable fills him, fills his soul, fills parts of him that were positively famished.

It's powerful and beautiful and Felicity can't believe she takes part in creating this for him.

Tears blur her vision, and wow, it's way too early to be blubbering.

Oliver glances at her like he knows exactly what she's thinking and she gives him a smile, one he returns. Felicity's not sure how much time passes, but she's pretty sure it won't ever be enough.

Ellie tucks her head under his chin, doing her level best to wrap her small arms around him. They barely make it halfway. She's so small in his arms and Felicity can't help but wonder what it will look like when Ellie's just born, when she's brand new to the world and tiny enough to fit along the length of his forearm. The very notion of her being that small, that fragile in the safety of Oliver's protective embrace… well, it's more than enough to send a flash of blinding want through her veins.

It's suddenly blatantly clear to her exactly why they choose to have more than one child.

After a moment, he asks, "What time is it?"

"Ah, it's, uh… " Felicity clears her throat, forcing her mind back to the present. She glances at her phone. "It's just after eight."

She can hear his unspoken questions as blatantly as if he'd spoken them out loud - How long can I keep this? How long can I hold her? How long is she mine? The very notion that he has to ask these things, even in his mind... that guts her a bit. But the press conference is an inevitability at this point and there's no way around it.

"We've still got a few hours."

He closes his eyes, nodding.

"Okay," he says in a quiet voice she would never have associated with Oliver before today.

One of his hands buries itself in Ellie's curls, the other wrapping around her little body tightly - his bicep is damned near the same size as her torso. His thumb strokes against her back like he's trying to prove to himself that she's there, that she's real and his.

She is his, she'll always be his.

For one long moment, Felicity thinks about leaving, just the three of them. They could run off to Central City or Ivytown or National City or goddamned Smallville. She doesn't care as long as they get to keep this. But she knows they can't. She'd meant what she'd said last night - she wants a life with meaning, and not just for herself but for Ellie as well. And sometimes - most of the time - that means not taking the easy route, not running away just because it's safe, or easy.

Felicity would do almost anything to keep the smile on Oliver's face that had been there when he'd walked into the room, but she can't give up on who they are, what they've done. Neither of them can.

In the least-murderous use of her League of Assassin training ever, Sara has somehow crossed the room unnoticed, made a plate of eggs, fruit and toast for Oliver and come back to slide it across the counter to him.

"Thanks," he tells her, without loosening his grip on Ellie in the least.

"No problem," Sara says with a knowing look before her gaze drifts down to Ellie, curled up happily against her father. "You get enough to eat, munchkin?"

"Yup," Ellie confirms, nodding, not pulling away from Oliver in the least. "My belly's all full now."

"Good," Sara smiles, looking back up to Oliver. "Tabasco?"

"Please," he confirms.

Felicity wrinkles her nose. She's about to question his taste - because ew - when her phone rings, vibrating on the countertop in front of her. The bright smiling face staring back at her quickly derails any thought she might've had about questionable food choices. Okay, yeah, this was not an eventuality she'd planned for, as inevitable as it suddenly seems.

Frak.

She declines the call, turning her phone face-down as Oliver asks, "Is something wrong?"

"Not at the moment," Felicity proclaims, giving him a bright smile, one she knows he sees right through when he frowns.

"Was that Gramma?" Ellie asks, perking up, her eyes on the phone. Double frak, she saw her picture. "I wanna talk to her and Pop-Pop! Can they come over?"

"You want to talk to who now?" Felicity asks.

"Gramma and Pop-Pop," Ellie repeats, confusion slowly filling her little features at the confusion mirrored back at her on Felicity's. "Can they come over? I wanna wear Gramma's sparkly things and Pop-Pop sneaks me candy. I like candy. He says it makes me hyper and daddy deserves that."

Silence is her only answer and Ellie cocks her head before looking up at Oliver.

"Are they coming over, daddy?"

There is, quite frankly, a total absence of words in Felicity's vocabulary at the moment, because as much as Ellie's words might make sense they also do not make sense. She can't remember the last time her mother had a boyfriend worth mentioning. The very notion of her having someone in her life that Ellie considers another grandparent is… it's…

She doesn't have words.

"Not today," Oliver says, jumping in when Felicity can only stare at her with her jaw hanging open. When Ellie's face transforms into a pout, he pushes on, "We've got a busy day, Ellie-bug, remember? I have to go talk to the reporters in a bit, so we can get them to leave you alone."

"Oh," Ellie says, nodding. She furrows her little brow and it's evident she doesn't exactly grasp what Oliver is saying. Still, her nod turns definitive and she looks up at him with a self-assured, "Right."

It's painfully cute.

Oliver must think so too because he huffs out little chuckle, shaking his head. He kisses her forehead, brushing her curls back.

"I love you, Ellie-bug."

The words come out so naturally, so perfectly, but their meaning doesn't escape either of them. They're heavy, a revelation - for Oliver, they're new, they're so incredibly special and meaningful... but for Ellie, it's just an everyday thing. It's a simple fact in her mind: she knows he loves her and she returns it in full.

"Love you too, daddy." Ellie beams at him before turning to pluck a piece of fruit off his plate. "Can I have your orange?"

"Of course," Oliver replies with a smile. Felicity's pretty certain that, in this moment at least, he'd give her anything in the entire world if she asked for it.

Sara suddenly looks up from the quiet scene and past them, her features tightening imperceptibly. Oliver doesn't notice, too entranced by Ellie shoving the orange rind into her mouth, but Felicity sees it.

"I'll be right back," Sara says. She waves the Tabasco at Oliver, whose head shoots up. "Here."

"Everything okay?" Oliver asks, taking the bottle.

"Just gonna do a sweep is all," she advises. "Sit tight. Eat your eggs."

Oliver's shoulders tighten and he sits up, holding Ellie tighter as he starts, "Sara, is there-"

"It's fine, Ollie," she interrupts patiently. "There's a car up the road. It's not past the gates, but it's heading this way. I'm just going to go check it out."

"Do you need me to-" he begins again, moving like he's about to hand Ellie off to Felicity and join her but Sara stops, raising her eyebrows at him.

"What I need you to do is eat your eggs," Sara replies. "I cooked those, and if you keep putting off eating them, I might get offended."

Oliver's face draws back tightly, but something about her tone placates him. He sits back down, pouring Tabasco on his eggs before taking a forkful and shoving it in his mouth. Sara nods in satisfaction, reaching over to ruffle Ellie's hair before she leaves.

"Take care of your dad, munchkin," she advises, to which Ellie nods solemnly, which looks slightly more ridiculous than one might expect considering she's happily sucking on a slice of orange, the rind peeking out between her lips.

Chuckling to herself, Sara strides out of the room, leaving the little family of three alone in the kitchen.

"Her hearing is completely unreal," Felicity says.

Oliver's response is to hum under his breath before dropping his fork to tug her chair closer. He leans over and presses his lips to Felicity's shoulder as he winds his arm his waist, pulling her into his side, once again completely relaxed. It hits her how much trust he places in Sara - he knows she'll tell him if something's wrong. Felicity turns into him, leaning her cheek against the crown of his head, the quiet intimacy between them quickly becoming addicting.

"It's a like a superpower," she continues.

"Wasn't her hearing," he tells her, his lips still pressed against her shoulder. "She was standing in the one spot in the kitchen where you can see down the hall and out a corner of the window in the den, when that door is open. She was keeping an eye on the drive the whole time she was in here." He pulls back to look at her with a quiet smile. "She's looking out for us."

"She's a good friend."

"She is, she always has been," Oliver agrees. "You two seem to be… better."

"We are," Felicity says with a smile. "I've always liked Sara, which…" She takes a deep breath. "Which made it a little harder to be around her sometimes. There were times when I thought she might replace me on the team." His brow furrows but she waves him off. "I know, I know. And I've always liked her too, which made it really hard to be upset with her about any of it. It's not like it's her fault that she's awesome, you know?"

The smile that settles over Oliver's face is at least as much disbelief as it is affection and he shakes his head before leaning in to kiss her softly.

"No one could ever replace you, Felicity," he tells her as they part, his gaze tracing the lines of her face. "In any possible way."

Her insides melt at his words and his appraisal. Every bit of her wants to show him precisely how much she enjoys and echoes his sentiments… but Ellie's on his lap, munching away on an orange and humming happily, and they're in his mother's kitchen and the world is made up of a whole lot more than just the two of them at that very moment. Still, there's a heaviness in their shared gaze that speaks volumes about how both of them wish this morning could go.

"I'm glad to hear that," she says, her voice husky. "But…" She licks her lips, earning a sharp inhale from him. "We need to have a serious talk about your Tabasco use."

Oliver laughs. "My Tabasco use?"

"You taste like vinegar and cayenne, Oliver," she advises.

"Really?" he asks, eyes skimming down her form. There's so much heat in his gaze she can feel it. He has the nerve to lick his lips in a way that is the complete opposite of what she'd just done before he lets his eyes trail back up and catch her gaze. "I look forward to letting you know how you taste."

The air feels like it's sucked right out of her lungs. She can't breathe. The very notion of him saying that, of meaning that is enough to send tendrils of want spiraling through her belly with tremendous ferocity. Oh, this is so very much not the place for this conversation. This is a place where clothing isn't optional and that little fact is rapidly becoming a problem.

"... Oliver," she chokes out, locking gazes with him, shallow little breaths working their way past her lips in tiny puffs of air.

He knows what he's doing to her. He knows exactly what he's doing. The self-satisfied, hungry look on his face is proof-positive of that much.

"You can't tell me you don't like things a bit spicy, Felicity," he continues with a smirk has her nerves shuddering with a desire she'd only gotten a taste of last night. Little electrical impulses run up and down the entire length of her body, like she's just touched a live wire, and when his smirk morphs into a knowing smile, she has to bite her lip to keep her gasp at bay. He's going to be the death of her. "I think we both know better than that."

Ellie or not, there's no force on earth that could keep her from closing the distance between.

An inaudible whimper slips past her lips before she kisses him with a brutally raw hunger that screams promises of later as she cups his face, his beard biting into her palms.

He might have incited this rather blatantly, but it's her who has clear control over their kiss. Her nails scrape against the back of his neck and he practically melts against her mouth, moaning quietly as she tugs at his lower lip with her teeth. They're both keenly aware of Ellie's presence. She's still perched on Oliver's knee quietly enjoying her orange slice. This won't go further, it can't… And it doesn't. But, much like everything else for the past two days, the promise of the future looms heavily in front of them. Just when she didn't think it was possible to want this more, she does.

"Felicity," he groans out in a whisper as she lets go of his lip. He cups her cheek, pressing his forehead to hers. "God, you… I just…"

"Yeah," she breathes out, echoing his unspoken sentiment before he presses a much softer, much more chaste kiss to her lips.

He runs his hand softly down the side of her face, rubbing his thumb against her cheekbone in a way that leaves her feeling cherished. Special. Like she's his in a way that hadn't seemed possible just a few days ago.

Felicity laughs in amazement, which makes him grin as she kisses him again.

"Ahem."

They both jolt at the cleared throat, jumping in their seats.

Oliver goes from relaxed and easy and wholly at home with his family to completely on edge and ready to protect them in a split second, his arm tightening around Ellie as his other slips around Felicity's waist… not that it's exactly needed. It's not like it's Isabel standing in the doorway to the kitchen announcing her presence. Though, if it had been, Felicity's pretty sure she'd have felt more certain how she ought to react.

"Uh… Laurel," Oliver manages, his eyes on her where she stands at the kitchen entrance, Sara a few steps behind her sister. He hasn't moved. Felicity wonders if that's intentional - a silent statement about his place at her side now - or if he's just frozen as she is by Laurel's presence. "What… are you doing here?"

All things considered, Oliver might be the most uncomfortable person in the room. He probably is, actually, although that's saying a lot because Felicity is pretty sure she'd rather be just about anywhere other than in the presence of Laurel Lance right now.

Laurel's eyes drop to the toddler on Oliver's lap and her face twists in a mixture of disbelief and confusion. She had to have known about Ellie - there's no other reason for her to be here - but it's clear the reality of whatever she thinks their situation to be hasn't fully cemented in her mind.

Felicity's stomach jumps with nervous butterflies as nobody moves, and she's suddenly painfully aware of just how close she and Oliver are.

Ellie shifting in Oliver's arms breaks the silence. Something uneasy settles over her daughter's eyes as she leans further back into Oliver before pulling the orange rind from her mouth.

"Daddy, who's she?" Ellie asks.

"I… what?" Oliver sputters, glancing back to Laurel for a second before fixing his eyes on Ellie. "That's Laurel. Sara's sister. She's my… my friend. You don't know her?"

"Nuh uh," Ellie says, shaking her head, blond curls bouncing around her like a frizzy halo as she bites her lip. "I don't know Sara's sister. She went away before I got born. Like Uncle Tommy did."

Silence reigns. All of them - all of them - are absolutely still. Felicity's not sure if it's the mention of Tommy or the obvious fact that Laurel isn't around in the very near future that's rendering them all speechless… it's probably a bit of both. Laurel surely doesn't have enough information to put the pieces together yet, but the rest of them…

"What?" Sara asks in a near whisper from the doorway.

Ellie doesn't get it. She's got no clue what's going on. But the focus of all four adults on her with shell-shocked eyes has to be unnerving.

"Did I say something bad?" she asks in a quietly anxious voice that twists something in Felicity's heart, and just like that, it doesn't matter who's there.

"No, baby," Felicity tells her, reaching out and grabbing the toddler from Oliver's lap to hold her close in comfort. "Not at all. You're just... full of surprises, is all. You didn't do anything bad. Okay? Don't worry about it."

She's hesitant to believe her mother though, that much is obvious as she searches Oliver's stricken face for some sort of agreement. Luckily, he notes her attention almost immediately.

"It's not you, Ellie-bug," he reassures her. "Don't worry about it."

The smile he offers her is forced, but it's there, and the kiss he leans over to press into the top of her head settles her even more.

It answers precisely none of Laurel's questions, though.

"Oliver…" she says after a moment, her eyes lingering on Ellie before snapping to her ex-boyfriend's face. "We need to talk."

 


 

 

In the long list of things Oliver figured he might need to deal with today - the press conference, Isabel's next move, his mother's machinations, Thea's cold shoulder - Laurel hadn't even registered. Looking back, that might have been an oversight. There was no way she was going to miss the news and this isn't exactly something she'd just let go - Ellie? Felicity? She's going to have questions.

A few intimately murmured words to Felicity, a kiss to Ellie's cheek and a heavy look at Sara that unnecessarily screams, "Do not let them out of your sight," later and he's following his one-time girlfriend through the familiar halls of his childhood home to his father's old study. It's a path she knows as well as he does. They've walked this route countless times before, and yet, they've always ended up right back where they are now.

As he follows her, his heart still back in the kitchen with his family, he realizes just how freeing it's been having this glimpse of his future… Of Ellie. Of Felicity. Of a kind of happiness he'd never realized was real and had surely never felt entitled to call his own. Despite everything that's happened with the woman before him, some part of him had always felt like they were an eventuality, something he ought to be resigned to. But seeing a future that looks nothing like he'd once assumed… it's like he's shrugged a weight off his shoulders, like he can look at his life and breathe. Like he can want it.

"What the hell is going on, Ollie?" Laurel demands as soon as the office door shuts behind them. She rounds on him, arms crossed, her gaze unyielding. He fights the urge to back down, to cross his own arms in defense - he feels like she's put him on trial. Maybe in some ways she has.

"It's…" he hedges, his mind racing for something to say… but there's honestly no explanation he can give her that she'll buy. "It's complicated."

"That's one way to put it," she says, her eyebrows raised. She nails him with a hard look. "Now, is it complicated because you have a three-year-old that is literally impossible or because you're The Arrow?"

"What?" His brain completely short circuits, her words blindsiding him. "No… What?"

He has no idea what to say. There's a lot of things he'd expected Laurel to bring up - if he'd realized this confrontation was coming at all - but his nighttime activities were most definitely not amongst them and he doesn't know how to handle this. In spite of whatever their current relationship might be, there's still a whole lot of history between them and he can read her every bit as well as she can read him. He knows - without a doubt - that she's not fishing. She's not asking if he's The Arrow. She knows.

"Don't lie to me," Laurel insists, her tone brokering no arguments. "You've done enough of that already."

Oliver closes his eyes. "Laurel…"

"I can't help you if you're going to insist on lying to me," she points out and her words have his eyes snapping back to her. Help? She unfolds her arms in a slightly more relaxed stance that's still stiff… but he can tell she's trying. And that means more to him than he could have possibly fathomed because this was definitely not what he was expecting. "And right now, I'm pretty sure you need some help."

She has no idea.

The breath he releases is slow and measured, breezing past his thinned lips as he tries to find the words to respond to her. They don't come easily and it's amazing that he already knows this isn't even the hardest conversation he'll have before lunch today.

"I… honestly don't even know where to start," Oliver allows.

"Then how about I start," Laurel suggests.

The ominous silence that follows fills his ears, anticipation about what she might follow that up with thrumming in his veins.

Oliver doesn't quite trust himself to speak and instead offers a nod of agreement. It feels like an admission, a concession, and he bites his tongue to keep himself still. While the thought of telling her what's really going on doesn't make his chest tighten like it used to, it still doesn't feel right. He didn't tell her what he really did for a reason, a reason that still stands.

Part of him very much wants to hear what she has to say, but the rest of him wants this moment in time to freeze, to rewind, to take it all back and never start this whole conversation in the first place. But as fast as he can move when he needs to, he can't time travel.

He holds his breath and waits.

"Slade Wilson told me that you're the Arrow," she begins. "Weeks ago."

"Did he hurt you?" Oliver asks immediately, his entire frame tensing for a fight, one that's already come and gone, but he can't help it. Slade is gone, they'd beaten him, but he can't help the sense of responsibility he feels for Slade's actions.

"I'm fine," Laurel says, furrowing her brow at him. "He didn't do anything. But as soon as he said it, I knew it was true. I think some part of me always knew. I know you, Ollie, and when he said that… it just clicked."

Oliver closes his eyes, not against the meaning behind her words, but because some of the weight is lifted off his shoulders. He has so many secrets. Too many. Some of it's inevitable, but with Laurel knowing, his mother knowing, Thea knowing… it loosens the knot he hadn't even known was living in his gut.

"I'm not here to judge you, Ollie," Laurel tells him, misinterpreting the look on his face. "I want to help."

He sighs, long and deep, not just because her knowledge brings with it a strange kind of relief, but also because her offer only reminds him how overwhelming the scope of their situation is. He really wasn't lying when he said it was complicated.

"Slade was on the island," he volunteers. It feels like as good a spot to start as any and the tacit admission that she's right has Laurel sucking in a quick breath. She hadn't expected this, he realizes quickly. She hadn't believed he would confirm what she'd already known. Not that long ago, she might have been right. "We were friends once… allies. But things went badly. He's a very dangerous man, Laurel. Or he was. Thankfully, he's not a problem anymore."

For a split second she freezes, clearly working over what he might mean by that. The Arrow has a long history of permanently neutralizing threats, but he's not that guy anymore. Not just because of the promise he made after Tommy died, but also because it's not who he wants to be. But she hasn't been privy to the changes he's gone through over the last year. She doesn't know.

"He attacked us yesterday," Oliver explains.

"And you beat him?" Laurel questions, cutting off the rest of his statement.

"Actually… my mother did," Oliver tells her, an edge of amazement still present in his tone It's still not something he can really wrap his head around.

"Your…" Laurel pauses, blinking at him in blatant shock. "Moira knows you're The Arrow too?"

"Lately it seems like everyone does," Oliver grumbles. "I'm starting to think it's the worst kept secret in Starling City."

"And… did she…" Laurel starts before her voice trails off, the intent of her statement still obvious.

"No," Oliver counters, shaking his head. "No, he's alive. We have… connections in the government. He's being held by them in a secure facility."

"We?" Laurel prods.

"We," Oliver confirms. "The team. Me, Digg. Felicity. Sara."

"Right," Laurel nods, more than a little affronted. "So everyone important in your life then?"

A disbelieving scowl colors his face.

"I didn't want you anywhere near this," he tells her. "For your own safety. And you might try to remember that you more or less waged war against The Arrow for the better part of last year."

She almost looks insulted at that. "If I'd known it was you-"

"If you'd known it was me you'd have happily prosecuted me," Oliver cuts her off. His voice is even, matching the calm understanding behind his words. He's not wrong.

"Oliver, I would never have-"

"You would." Oliver narrows his eyes. "Do you not remember what it was like when I first came back? Or right after Tommy died? Laurel, it was hard to tell who you hated more - me or The Arrow."

"I've never hated you, Ollie," she counters. She opens her mouth to continue but pauses, like she's gathering herself. "It would have been so much easier if I could have. But even if I had, I've been through a few things since then too. I've struggled, and… it's changed me, just like it changed you."

While there's an undeniable thread of truth to her words, her trials and his aren't comparable. He knows this, but it doesn't bear arguing and he won't assume to understand her crucible any more than he'd expect her to understand his.

Instead, Oliver says, "It was safer to keep you away from all of this. For all of us."

"But it wasn't safer for Sara to keep her away?" Laurel asks. "Or Felicity?"

"Sara is... " He huffs in frustration as words fail him and he runs his fingers through his hair. "Sara's as much a part of this as I am. There was never a way to keep her out of it, and… that's not my story to tell, Laurel, but she's in this. The same things that made me who I am made her who she is."

A surge of tears make her eyes glassy but she blinks them away. He fights the urge to reiterate that it's not his place to explain what happened to her, anymore than it would be Sara's place to explain what happened to him.

It's an amazing change considering how everything between the three of them started in the first place.

"Fine," Laurel says. "Then what about Felicity?"

She's holding her breath, waiting for his response, and that has Oliver pausing. For a split second, he lets himself wonder… except there's nothing left to wonder about. There hasn't been, not for a long, long time. He's not sure when exactly that happened, but in this moment he knows without a doubt that what he had with Laurel is firmly in the past.

For her, though, it's still a 'what if'. A 'maybe'. A 'someday'. He honestly can't remember the last time he thought of her in that light, and he feels a stab of sadness deep in his chest, for what might have been.

What he might never have gotten.

"Felicity…" His voice is soft, more than appreciating what he's saying and what it means to both of them. "She's special. I need her... in a lot of ways. In every way."

Laurel's brow knits at that, an emotion he hasn't seen in a long, long time flickering over her reserved features. He doesn't want to hurt her, he's never wanted to hurt her, and yet… and yet no matter what he does, he always seems to. Even without Felicity, even without a glimpse of this perfect future where he's happier than he could have ever even imagined being, that realization alone would have been enough to prove to him that he and Laurel were not something sustainable. If either one of them was going to have any hope of really being happy, their futures have always needed to be separate.

"You're in love with her," Laurel realizes.

"Yes," he confirms without hesitation, his voice lowering with an intensity that rivals his voice modulator.

She flinches, nodding. Apparently he's never going to stop hurting her… but this isn't about Laurel, not even a little.

"And you two… have a daughter?" Laurel ventures.

"That's complicated," Oliver hedges.

"Either you have a child together or you don't, Oliver," Laurel returns pointedly. "Seems pretty easy to me."

"She's from the future," Oliver tells her, the words blunt. "Apparently our future selves had her sent back in time for her own protection."

"Uh…" Laurel blinks at him with owlish eyes. "Okay, that… that is complicated. And crazy."

"If I hadn't been there to see her come back, I'd be exactly as disbelieving as you are," Oliver agrees. "But I was. So were Sara and Digg and Felicity. And I know I'm asking you to take a lot on faith here, Laurel, but trust me. She's from the future."

"Okay…" Laurel allows, shaking her head and pacing for a moment. "Okay, so… at some point in the future you marry Felicity and have a child?"

"I very much hope so," Oliver tells her without thinking about it. She jolts at his words, undoubtedly thinking back to when she'd once pushed him for such things only to have him pull away.

The usual well of guilt he used to feel when he'd think about that doesn't appear, because he was a different person back then… and he stopped being that person the second he watched Sara die the first time on the Gambit.

Laurel bypasses whatever feelings that undoubtedly brings up, consciously pushing them down to focus on the problem at hand. She suddenly straightens, her shoulders pulling back as she becomes every inch the lawyer she is as she mulls over the issues before them. Oliver's suddenly struck by the notion that she's right. She could be useful to them right now.

"Well you can't exactly tell that to the press," Laurel says.

"I'm aware," Oliver replies.

"What are you going to say?" she asks, pausing in her steps to look at him and folding her arms in front of her chest again. "This has the potential to blow up in your face in so many ways."

"My mother's campaign manager worked up a statement," he says with a grimace, hating even the thought of their plan. "Essentially… we're going to say she's not mine. That she's Felicity's and basically position myself in a stepparent role in her life."

Laurel looks thoroughly unimpressed by this plan. She cocks her head, narrowing her eyes as she presses her lips together thinly, keeping her gaze trained on him.

"And when people Felicity's known for the last three or four years of her life point out she's never had a kid?" Laurel asks. "When her family sees the news? When she goes back to her own time? How are you going to explain all of those things?"

Oliver clenches his jaw. She has a point, and he hates it, mostly because he doesn't have answers for any of it. He hadn't let himself fully think about the ramifications of what they'll be walking into. He just wants it over with, because the more he lets himself think about it, the less inclined he's going to be in getting up there and telling the world Ellie is not his daughter.

"Felicity can… she can fake documents and create photos to show Ellie was in her life. Her mom is… I don't know. I guess I just hope she doesn't see the news and the rest of it…"

His heart clenches violently at the notion of Ellie leaving. It's inevitable, he knows that, they all know that. And honestly, he's a little surprised his future self hasn't torn through the timeline in his desperation to get his daughter back. It's him after all. He's fallen madly in love with his daughter in a matter of days, he cannot imagine having her disappear from his life when she's been a part of it for years.

"I know you don't want to think about her leaving, I can see that much," Laurel says, her voice gentle, mirroring her featherlight touch when her hand falls on his arm. She's right, he doesn't want to think about that at all. "But you have to. What happens when she disappears all of a sudden only for you two to have a daughter who looks just like her with the same name a few years down the line?"

"I… I have no idea," he admits. "I can't… I have no idea, Laurel. I don't have any answers for you."

"Well, luckily for us, I do," Laurel tells him, her hand falling away. She takes a deep breath and when she exhales, he can see she's fully accepted the situation. And he's grateful for it. "First of all, you need to change her name."

"She's three," Oliver says. "She's not going to respond to anything else."

"Make it something similar." Laurel shrugs. "You're trying to keep her out of the public eye as much as possible anyhow, right? What's her name?"

"Ellie," Oliver tells her. He can't stop his little smile, her beautiful face surfacing in his mind's eye. It suddenly hits him how difficult the press conference might really be. "Her full name's Elizabeth."

"Does she have a middle name we could use?" Laurel asks.

"I…" Guilt rushes through him as he admits, "I have no idea."

"That's okay," Laurel reassures him. "We can work with Ellie. Call her Lily instead when you talk to the press. It's close enough that if someone overhears you call her Ellie, they might just think they heard you wrong."

"Okay. Yeah," Oliver agrees. "But… what do we do with the rest of it? Felicity's no one's definition of a public figure, but if my mother wins the mayor's race, that'll keep my family in the public eye and the press will circle back to her." He exhales, pinching his nose as the gravity of what they're wading into hits him. "God, you're right, this entire thing could blow up right in our faces."

"Moira has to win the mayor's race," Laurel tells him. "But we'll get to that in a minute. As far as the press is concerned, Ellie can't be Felicity's daughter either."

"Laurel…" Oliver huffs with a frustrated laugh. "I already called her my daughter in front of two reporters. How are we supposed to protect her if everyone thinks we aren't her parents?"

"Well, luckily for you, you happen to know someone with a whole lot of experience in family law," Laurel points out. "I have a few ideas. Families are complicated, Ollie. You're making this harder than it has to be."

He starts to ask what she means, what exactly she has in mind, but a commotion in the other room cuts him short.

Something crashes, glass shattering against the floor, followed by a high-pitched, terrified shriek piercing the air.

Ellie… it's Ellie.

And then Felicity screams his name.

He's never moved as fast as he does in the next moment in his entire life.

Blinding terror surges through him. Time becomes sluggish, his movements feeling like he's caught in slow motion as he throws open the door to the study and races down the hall. He doesn't note that Laurel is following in his wake, doesn't register his mother rushing down the stairs. None of it matters, not in this moment - his only thought is getting to Ellie and Felicity. In his head, it's Slade again. Or Isabel. Or any number of other adversaries from his past.

But when he barrels into the kitchen, the sight that greets him isn't what he expected, not even close.

He barely hears the combined gasps and shouts from Laurel and his mother behind him.

Ellie's safe in Felicity's arms, the pair of them backed into a corner, looking every inch as terrified as he feels. Sara's planted herself in front of them, poised for a fight that hasn't quite materialized.

Because her opponent hasn't quite materialized.

It's like reality is bending right in front of them, a face pressing into their world, but not quite breaking through. A grotesque mask that gives even Oliver chills leans forward, some unseen fabric of the universe keeping it from fully entering their time, their world, their home - Oliver isn't sure which.

The only part of the intruder's face that's actually visible behind the mask is his eyes… and they're fixed on Ellie. That alone has a violent need surging through Oliver to reach through whatever is keeping him separate from their world and break his neck. The delight and viciousness shining in his gaze sets Oliver even further on edge as Ellie's fear saturates the air.

"Go away!" Ellie sobs in hysterics, scrabbling to get as far away as possible. "Go away, Zoom! Go away! Leave me alone, bad man. Daddy, make him go away! Please!"

Zoom.

He's nothing like Oliver imagined. He's worse.

Oliver moves swiftly between them and the intruder, assuming a defensive stance at Sara's side as Felicity's frightened, "Oliver!" mixes morbidly with Ellie's shrieks of, "Make him go away!"

But he doesn't know how. Zoom isn't even fully here. He's pushing against the walls of reality like it's plastic wrap he can't quite break through. It warps the air, leaving Oliver feeling like there's nothing but surface tension separating his daughter from one of the most terrifying things he's ever seen.

For once, Oliver isn't sure what to do, what the right move is. What if he attacks and somehow… pierces whatever is keeping Zoom at bay? What if fighting him does more harm than good?

Ellie's little hands grab for Oliver's shirt just as one of Felicity's grabs at his side. He steps back, crowding them further into the corner, one arm flying back to cocoon them against his back.

"I won't let anything happen to you," Oliver promises, turning his head so they both hear him.

"Daddy…"

The terror staining his daughter's voice is a hundred times worse than what he heard when Slade had been holding her and that sends a river of ice through his veins.

He doesn't know if Zoom will break through whatever barrier is keeping him from their world, but he knows full well that he will use every last breath he has to keep Ellie safe.

Zoom reaches out, his fingers pressing against the thin film separating their realities. It gives slightly under his touch. If Oliver didn't know better, he'd say the scar-like etched mouth of his mask curls into a smile as the world around him gives, shifts slightly, leaving him seeming ever-so-slightly more solid, more real.

He doesn't know what to do.

"Oliver…" Felicity's shaking voice whispers. She needs a reassurance she knows he doesn't have to give, not about this. With Isabel and Slade… there he knows what he's fighting. But this? He has no clue. And that is terrifying.

Ellie's frightened sobs are muffled, and he doesn't have to look to know that she's buried her face in Felicity's chest, shielding her eyes from Zoom's looming presence.

He's glad she's not looking right now. Because right now… right now Zoom's finger is pressing right through the walls of reality. The rest of him is fuzzy, blurred like he's not quite real, distorted by the whisper-thin slip of a divider between their worlds, but his finger… his hand… it's increasingly solid, pushing past his world and into theirs.

"Oliver…" Sara says, warning in her voice. He vaguely sees her hand from the corner of his eye, catching the light reflecting off a blade.

"I know, I see it," Oliver replies, taking a dagger from her outstretched hand.

"We got a plan?" Sara asks, sparing him a sideways look. "I don't want to mess with slicing open whatever that is that's keeping him away, but... It looks like it might be just a stop-gap measure."

"... It would be hard to grab Ellie if he were missing his hand," Oliver says after a moment, eyeing the hand that's progressed far enough into their world that his wrist is emerging, fingers flexing like they're testing their limits in this new reality.

"You think it's that easy if your future self felt the need to send Ellie back in time?" Sara asks skeptically.

"I think we have to try," Oliver snaps. "I think there's no option but to try."

"Fair enough," Sara responds. She eyes the hand, the sharpened claws… "On three?"

"Yeah," Oliver agrees, readying himself for a fight. "Felicity, keep Ellie's face hidden."

"Absolutely," she says immediately.

They don't even get the chance to start the countdown. Oliver's muscles are coiled, ready for a fight to the death, but Zoom's progress into their world is suddenly halted.

A blur of red closes in on the ghastly figure and it only takes Oliver an instant to realize it's Barry in pursuit of Zoom. He slows to a standstill, firmly on the other side of the barrier and tugs at Zoom's arm with one hand while throwing a punch with the other.

The look that flits across Zoom's eyes is one of fury and frustration as he's forced to pull back, to defend himself, leaving Ellie and her world behind, the film between worlds knitting shut without the press of his fingers against it.

What follows is difficult to discern. Oliver's never seen people move this fast. It's like hitting fast-forward on an action film and trying to absorb the fight that's happening. Everything is a blur of black and red, blue and yellow lightning highlighting their moves as the two adversaries rise against each other in conflict. Oliver holds his breath as he watches it all play out in a space that's paradoxically right in front of him but totally out of reach.

And then… suddenly the blur of red solidifies, on the floor with Zoom's foot pressed into his neck.

"Ollie, we need to do something!" Sara says. "If Barry loses…"

He knows. If Barry loses, Ellie has no way back to her own time. If Barry loses, they have no guardian to ward off Zoom as he materializes right in front of them at any point in time. If Barry loses, they lose.

"We need to-" Oliver starts.

But all the sudden it isn't just Barry and Zoom. There's a third person, every bit as fast as either of the two men. She's a swirl of blonde hair and dark clothes - Oliver's almost sure it's a 'she,' anyhow, but she doesn't slow down enough for him to get a good look - and it's clear in just a few short moments that she has the upper hand against Zoom. Zoom must sense it too, because he slows down, scowls and then blinks out of existence right in front of them.

The blonde woman - and Oliver can now see that it is, in fact, a woman - grabs Barry's hand and pulls him to stand before pressing something on her sleeve.

And just like that, they disappear, just like Zoom did, leaving the distorted space in the kitchen to slowly evaporate.

"Was that… was that you?" Laurel asks from the doorway, looking toward Sara.

"I don't know," Sara replies, watching the distortion in front of them shrivel to a pinpoint before disappearing entirely. "Maybe? Ellie said something about me travelling through time. I didn't get a clear look."

Their speculation is far from the forefront of Oliver's mind at the moment, though. The important thing is that the danger has passed - for now - and Ellie is safe in Felicity's arms. That's his only focus. That will always be his focus.

"You're okay," Oliver says as he turns, wrapping his arms around his girls. "You're both okay. He's gone, Ellie. You're safe."

For now goes unsaid.

She whimpers and turns toward him, throwing her arms around his neck, clinging to him tightly. Oliver holds her close, breathing her in - she's okay. Her little body shakes with fear, and he can feel Felicity's trembling where she grips his t-shirt in tight fists.

Oliver cups Felicity's cheek, turning her face up to his.

"We're fine," he promises again. She nods, but he knows she doesn't believe, despite her trying. "I'll always do everything I can to protect both of you.

"I promise."

From Zoom. From Isabel. From the press.

He only hopes it's enough. On all fronts.

Chapter Text

Her hands won't stop shaking.

Felicity huffs in aggravation, focusing on unclasping the necklace.

It isn't helping that it's brand new, brand new, like many of the things that'd appeared in their room that morning, courtesy of one Moira Queen. The pile of goods - a small mountain, really, of neatly packaged designer clothes with no price tags attached - had been distracting, for about five seconds. When exactly had the Queen Matriarch found the time to buy all of them a lavish new wardrobe? She supposes she ought to be grateful, considering it's not like she'd brought anything at all with her, much less something press-appropriate, but it's still unsettling. It'd led to a firehose of questions from Felicity and shrugs from Oliver until the gravity of what had happened downstairs and what waited for them at Moira's campaign headquarters reared its ugly head again.

Moira's designer taste and lavish-but-necessary gifts were the very least of their concerns today.

They'd gotten ready in silence, one of them constantly with Ellie until all that was left were the small final touches, including this damned necklace that she's pretty sure came straight from Hades himself. It has that 'never been opened before' tightness that's challenging her trembling fingers in ways she isn't really able to handle at the moment.

"How is this…"

The quivering in her voice stops her.

Felicity closes her eyes, her hands dropping as the lack of control over her own body, her own voice, overwhelms her. She hears Oliver pause where he's fixing his tie behind her in the bathroom. His silence highlights the comforting sounds of Ellie where she's waiting for them in her pillow castle and Moira's voice down the hall, echoing the quiet rush of her new bodyguard team as they sweep through the Manor.

There's no more ugly sounds of ripping from a hole appearing in the center of the room or the clatter of fallen utensils or sharp screams from Ellie - her beautiful Ellie, who knew exactly what was happening and what it prefaced - or Sara ordering them to get back.

She'd learned pretty quickly that there was a huge difference between fear of something she knew how to anticipate and fear of something she had no knowledge about. Felicity had no idea about time travel, about holes in time, about what someone tearing through realities to get to her child was actually like. She didn't know - couldn't know - until now. Now she knew, because she'd met Zoom's gaze. She'd seen the amusement in his eyes and she'd known with one-hundred percent certainty that there was no place, no time they could hide Ellie that he wouldn't find her.

Oh yes, it's a whole different kind of fear that lives inside her now and it's eating her alive.

Felicity's hands tremble even more and she bites the tip of her tongue until it hurts, listening for the sounds of something normal, the normal she'd thought she'd had a few hours ago.

Ellie isn't moving anymore.

Her eyes snap open, flying right to the tent, half-expecting to see the giant tear in time again and that terrifying mask pushing through, the clawed hand reaching out for her like something straight out of her nightmares. It'd almost grabbed Ellie - it'd been so close - and when Felicity and Sara had reacted, it'd moved, following them.

The fear leaks through her body like acid, corrosive, leaving her pitted and hollowed.

Except Ellie's perfectly fine. The sun shines through the large picture window, casting her tiny shadow against the dark gray sheet. She's sitting, her hands moving… She's safe, in a place that she's made all her own, a place that her father built with her, giving it the kind of steady foundation that only the safety of a parent can give.

She's okay.

God, it was just a couple of hours ago that she'd had to talk herself off this exact emotional cliff and here she was again. Mere hours later.

Felicity can't take her eyes off Ellie. She's pretty sure she won't ever again.

Some logical part of her keeps repeating that it's likely not that easy to rip a hole through time - if that's what that even was - so the chances of it happening again are relatively slim. Right? They have to be, or else Zoom would have attempted it multiple times already.

Maybe he has.

Felicity shudders, her chest tightening. What if they'd only just seen it now, what if he'd been trying the entire time Ellie's been with them? In places they couldn't see… or while they slept? She inhales sharply and it sounds like her lungs have forgotten how to work as she sees that jagged smile again, those cold black eyes on her daughter, so close he was almost touching her. The thought of that thing chasing Ellie through time…

A soft rustle sounds behind her just as Oliver whispers, "Hey." His hands appear over her shoulder and he wiggles his fingers. "Let me."

"What?" Felicity asks, turning her head towards him.

He leans over her, pressing a soft kiss to her cheek, his stubble grounding her in a way that sort of blows her mind before he replies, "Your necklace."

"Oh." Felicity looks down at the forgotten chain - she's holding onto it so tightly the metal is biting into her fingers. She makes a small sound in the back of her throat before lifting it up, handing it over. "Thank you."

"Of course," he replies, stepping closer.

His hands are so large and sure - steady.

Felicity watches him move like her life depends on it. She takes a deep breath as he sweeps her ponytail out of the way, fingers brushing against her skin, and pulls the chain back, clasping it for her. The tiny circle emblem is chilly on her chest and it makes her shiver.

He doesn't move away. Instead, Oliver brushes his thumbs over the top of her spine, in soft gentle circles, and some of the tension slides right out of her. Her shoulders drop, her eyes slipping shut and she leans into him. His chest is a hard wall against her back as his presence surrounds her - he's so warm and the familiar mixture of his shampoo and what makes him Oliver fills her senses.

It's reassuring.

A slight tug deep in her core sends a thread of warmth through her as Oliver digs his fingers into her muscles, making her sigh, before he skims his hands down her back, winding his arms around her waist. He envelops her in his embrace, practically blanketing her with his presence, and it instantly eases the anxiety living in her chest. That warmth spreads through her, making her shiver, and she wraps her arms around his, needing to feel more of him, more of what he makes her feel… Safe. Like nothing can touch her.

Felicity opens her eyes, instantly finding Ellie in the tent. She doesn't have to look to know he's doing the same thing.

"I feel ridiculous," she whispers, finding his hands. She laces her fingers through his and he holds her back just as tightly. She feels the tug in the pit of her stomach again, and it spreads through her. It's amazing how the simple act of holding him makes her feel more steady. He squeezes her hands, his arms tightening around her, pulling her flush against him, and she knows she's doing the same thing for him, in her own way.

"You're not ridiculous," he whispers, resting his chin on her shoulder.

"Okay," she concedes. "Maybe not completely, but these hands of mine were rocksteady a few minutes ago when I was putting on my lipstick and now I can't even put on a necklace."

"Muscle memory," he replies quietly. He's distracted, as much as she is, she can hear it in his voice. "It's not something you really have to think about, until you think too much about it."

"Didn't think it'd be a necklace that made me think too much today."

"They can be tricky," Oliver deadpans.

"Yeah," she whispers. "Darn little boobs."

Oliver cocks his head, his chin still resting on her shoulder but angled so he can watch her from the corner of his eye. "What?"

"The, uh…" Felicity moves to wave her hand but she isn't ready to let him go yet. "The little clasp thing. You know, your boob's showing… and apparently that's something only the little jerks did in my middle school." Her cheeks warm. "Sorry, I'm just…"

"Don't apologize," he whispers, pressing a kiss to the side of her neck. "I know."

That unnameable warmth spreads even further, filling her chest.

She believes him when he says that, believes he does know, he knows exactly what she does when she's scared or nervous or upset. What's happening between them is new - very, very new - but that doesn't take away from all the months they already have between them, the night after night spent together, whether it was mundane talk over the coms or comfortable silence in the foundry. He knows her. Deeply. Intimately. Just like she knows him.

Felicity sighs, leaning her head against his. "How has so much happened in just a few days?"

Oliver shakes his head, a barely audible, "I don't know," his only response.

They don't move, neither of them ready to face what's waiting for them outside their room. It doesn't even faze her that she thinks of it as 'their' room. It just is. It's become their safe spot - her safe spot - and it both amazes and warms her that she's so quickly associated this simple space as something she could call home.

After the portal had disappeared, their first instinct had been to come back here, to the place all three of them felt safest. Of course, it hadn't been as simple as all that. There had been questions - so many questions - from Moira and Sara and Laurel. There'd been precious few answers, though, and most of them had come from Ellie.

"It's always like that when Zoom comes, but he usually pushes through easier," still sends a shiver down Felicity's spine.

"The dark made Sara's sister go away. I dunno how. Momma didn't tell me," had set Sara and Laurel both on edge.

But the glimmers of the future from Ellie - as startling as they were - were just that… glimpses, the tiniest of windows into what awaits them. She's too little to offer a more comprehensive view. But she hadn't been the only one with truths to share, as it turned out.

"Future problems aside, it's not just Zoom we have to worry about," Laurel had reminded them. "Look, Ollie… I know when I accused Sebastian Blood before I was a mess, a drunk, and everyone was right not to trust me. But now? Now, I'm sober. I'm put together. And, Oliver, I'm telling you that he has a hand in all of this. He was working with Slade and… and, I'm not sure, but I think Isabel Rochev might be involved too."

It had clicked into place then. Felicity could tell from the look on Oliver's face that he was putting the pieces together to form a larger picture. Blood, Isabel… they're Slade's plan B and plan C, pawns in his struggle to take over Starling City in every way possible and take everything away from Oliver piece-by-piece.

There's no question that it puts the revelation of Ellie's existence in a whole new light. She isn't just being used to try and sway an election, she's being used to further Slade's plans, even if he's not actively involved at the moment. That thought alone had been more than enough to make Felicity want to retreat back to their room, to the place where she feels safest…

Home.

Although that's not entirely true. She'd felt that sense of security just as soon as she'd seen Oliver run into the kitchen, when he'd put himself between his family and the danger, when he'd promised nothing would happen to them, a promise she'd known logically he couldn't keep. But he'd try; he'd do anything to protect her, to protect Ellie.

Oliver is her home. Even when they're at odds, even when she'd wanted to strangle him because he was damned obtuse, even when she'd been forced to sit back, powerless, watching him risk his life over and over - he was her home. The safest and happiest place in her mind is wherever he is. Their room just represents that fact.

But… is it enough? Are they enough? For Ellie? For her safety?

The irony of her questioning the life she and Oliver give Ellie considering what Felicity had just told him last night is not lost on her, not one bit. But the thought is there, digging its way through her flimsy defenses until all she can remember is the way Zoom had looked at Ellie - the anger, the glee that he'd found her… and the desire to end her life.

Like he can hear her thoughts, Oliver holds her a little tighter.

"How are we supposed to fight something like this?" Felicity whispers, not sure if she's talking to herself or to him. "Why would we send Ellie here, now, when we're even less prepared to handle someone like Zoom? And what kind of name is that? That is a horrible bad guy name. It's what… cars do. They zoom down the road. You don't zoom to kill someone."

Her voice cracks on the last part.

"Although I guess he does," she amends, realizing what she's saying as the words come out. He wants to kill Ellie. Her voice grows thick with unshed tears, tears she refuses to let fall. She's so done crying, she's done with outside forces making her cry. If she's going to cry, damn it, it's going to be on her terms. And yet she wants to. Really badly. "It hadn't really hit me what the future might be like. And now, actually seeing it… Oliver, I'm scared thinking about a future where things are so bad with this guy that we have to send her back in time to hide her." She snorts. "A lot of good that's doing."

"She's safer here than in her own time," Oliver says. "It's harder for Zoom to find her, or to get her at least."

"But he almost did," Felicity argues, not even fighting the manic edge her voice has taken on.

"Felicity," Oliver breathes, closing his eyes.

"I know," she whispers, voice no less intense but substantially less likely to be overheard by little ears. "I know what I'm saying and that I sound like a crazy person because usually I'm the 'rah-rah we can do this' but right now, I'm-"

"C'mere," he says, cutting her off, slipping his hands out of hers to turn her around in his arms. Felicity bites her lip as he pulls her against his chest, unable to tear her eyes away from the tent, off Ellie's tiny shadow. He appears to be of the same mind, his eyes fixed on the pillow castle. Oliver cups the side of her neck, pressing a soft kiss to her temple and when he leans into her, seeking her support just as much as she needs his, her eyes flutter shut as she soaks in his presence. Felicity pushes her arm around his waist, hugging him tightly, pushing her other hand up his chest to cover his heart. His lips move against her forehead as he says, "We're going to keep her safe."

Felicity opens her mouth to say, 'I know,' because she does know, she knows they'll do anything possible to keep her safe… but no sound comes out.

"We will," Oliver reiterates, maybe a little too strongly as he pulls back to look at her. He runs his thumb along her jaw, tilting her face up to his. "Hey, look at me." When she does, concern instantly mars his features at whatever he sees and she closes her eyes again as he says, "Talk to me. Please."

The words are tumbling out before she can put them in any semblance of order.

"It's different," she says, opening her eyes again. "When it was just me… when it was just us. Like when insane things happened before, it was easier to deal with. I mean, it didn't exactly feel that way at the time, but it was, because I had a process."

"A process," he repeats slowly. She can tell he's trying to follow her train of thought, to see where she's going with this, but she's not even sure herself, and she's not stopping.

"A process. For coping. You could even capitalize the 'c' because it's Coping. If it wasn't a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream, it was a glass of wine - or, you know, two, or three, or all of them - or it was me crying myself to sleep because I was so scared or upset, or both…"

"Oh, Felicity…" His voice is strained at the picture she's painting, but it doesn't stop her.

"It was my process, Oliver. It was what I did. And it worked. It was what let me get up in the morning not feeling like I was losing my mind, and it was what let me come into work and be able to handle the things we'd done the night before, or handle that you're always out there, always risking your life, that so much is at stake every single night, and… and what I'm saying is I handled it, I found a way to handle it because I love what we do, I love working with you and doing these things."

"I love it, too," he whispers, his thumb drifting along her jawline.

"But…" Felicity looks back at the tent. "With Ellie, it's different. I was okay with Slade, as okay as I could be, but… it was different, because I knew we could beat him. I just knew it, even when Ellie… when she faded... "

His only response is a slight tightening of his fingers at the reminder of what had happened two short days ago.

"But this…" She looks back at him, and his face falls at the look on hers. She wants to tell him she's fine, that she's okay, but she's honestly not sure. "There is this crushing fear in my chest. The danger is constant and there's no such thing as security. And, Oliver… it's so much."

"I know…"

"And I'm a little jealous of our future selves right now," she continues, "because we obviously want this, you know, we choose this. We find a way of Coping, with a capital C. We're obviously far more capable and mature and not insane…" Felicity lets out an irritated sound. "I know I'm overreacting, that I'm… that I sound crazy, but this just happened so fast, and now we've almost lost her in the space of a few days and to two people we have no idea how to kill. I mean, Slade isn't dead, he's just really blind and locked up. And Zoom… he's in an entirely different realm of 'how do you fight this.' Because how do you fight someone like him? How do we fight someone who can travel through time? Who can find us wherever we are? Who can appear at any time?"

"With friends," Oliver replies instantly, sounding ridiculously sane and uncharacteristically optimistic compared to her. "Barry. Sara."

"Or," she says, ignoring him, forcing herself back into hushed whispers as she looks at Ellie. "Or, how do we manage knowing that we've only had her for a few days and we've already almost lost her twice? Oliver, how do we do this all the time? How do we-"

"Felicity, stop," Oliver says sharply, cutting her off. Her mouth snaps shut at the quiet intensity staring down at her - his eyes are dark, his jaw tight, the lines of his face taut. He cups her cheek, his thumb brushing over her lips. "Nothing will happen to her, because we won't let it. I won't let it." He's certain, beyond a doubt, but it's lined with a desperation that makes him look almost manic as he whispers, "Not ever."

She doesn't respond, but he doesn't expect her to, she can see it in his eyes - there's nothing she can say, nothing that needs to be said. It's the same feeling in her - the same fear, the same desperation, the same love for their daughter that is absolutely inexplicable, something that can't be described or explained… except between them.

A light flush breaks out across her chest, heating her cheeks.

"Something else is different too," Felicity whispers. She wonders if he sees it in her face because his eyes dart down to her lips.

"What?" he asks.

"You know," she starts, licking her lips. His eyes darken even more and that warmth inside her slowly starts to turn molten, "How life or death situations make you want to do life-affirming things? Like… things I didn't really think about before, not in a realistic kind of way, because I didn't exactly have a someone to do anything with. Things…" His mouth parts with an unsteady breath. "Things I've been thinking about a lot, especially since last night." A smirk tugs at his lips, the kind of smirk she might expect from any guy, until he blushes. The light pink travels across his cheeks, and it only gives the warmth lacing its way through her veins strength. "But it's not so much about the 'yay' of being alive as… I don't… I don't know how to describe it." Felicity drops her hand to her stomach, digging her nails into her muscles. "It's like I need to…"

"Feel."

His voice is suddenly low, rough, and it matches the look on his face as he stares at her.

Felicity shivers, leaning into him as she nods, touching his chest again.

"You," she breathes. "I need to feel you. It's you, it's like… my body is telling me there is a way to beat Zoom. There is a way... a way he can't touch or control us. Something he can't take away from us."

Oliver only stares at her. It still amazes her how much he lets her see now - all of it, everything, and what he's showing her… he's right there with her. It's all there in his eyes for her to soak in - the want, the hope, the plans for their future. She sees him kissing her and her returning it with just as much need. She sees herself pushing him backwards until they find the closet or the bathroom or the bed or any flat surface, whatever comes first, and both of them giving into that carnal need that's making her skin suddenly feel way too tight. He'd barely touched her last night and it'd been explosive - she needs that feeling back, she needs to feel him.

It's tempting and Felicity's actually a little frightened at the intensity of it, at how willing she is to throw caution to the wind right now.

"Felicity…" he whispers, shaking his head, and she can hear he's right there with her. His fingers dig into her, holding her tightly. "I…"

And then his eyes slip shut and he lets out a breathy chuckle, his forehead falling against hers. He melts against her, and just like that, everything comes rushing back - where they are, what they need to do.

Felicity groans. "I sound horrible, don't I? Like, hey, our bodies interlock, let's try it, like no big deal."

"Then I must be horrible too," Oliver replies, "because I've been thinking exactly the same thing since you took your shirt off for your shower."

Felicity's heart jumps at that, at the prospect of him catching sight of her partially undressed. "Did you see anything good?"

Oliver smiles, pulling back to look at her with a smile that she feels in her bones. "I always see something good when I look at you."

Felicity blushes - never in her life would she have imagined him saying such things to her, things that make her stomach twist with nerves in a way that makes her legs feel weak.

"But no," he continues, pushing his hand around until he's cupping the back of her neck before letting it slide down her spine. "I didn't."

"Your loss."

Oliver chuckles, licking his lips slowly. "The first time I see all of you, Felicity, it's going to be on our terms."

The thought of him seeing all of her like that, it makes her insides quake. Felicity swallows, digging her nails into his chest as she whispers,"Oh?"

He nods with a soft, "Mmhmm," as he leans closer, until he's all she sees, all she feels. "And it's going to be in our bed, where I can take my time." Her mouth goes dry. "When I can properly see…" he pulls her closer, "and enjoy every inch of you."

She stops breathing… more from the promise in his words than anything.

The air around them grows thick with everything going unsaid, everything they definitely, definitely don't have time for, everything they cannot do right then, everything they want to do.

But later, it will happen later.

Felicity takes a breath and blows it out slowly, biting her lip. He catches the movement, and she knows he's going to make good on his promise.

Oliver gives her a soft, chaste kiss, one that tastes of the future. She hums against his lips.

"I cannot believe how much has happened," Felicity whispers absently. She might be saying that for the next twenty years at this rate, because whenever she stops to think about the fact that just a few days ago Oliver barely looked at her with anything past mediocre, friendly interest to this, to her telling him she has this soul-deep need to feel him in a way that makes her heart race and him whispering about seeing her, all of her, and taking his time.

It's a lot. It's the best kind of overwhelming.

"You're handling it really well, considering," Oliver says.

Felicity laughs. "I wouldn't be doing nearly as well if this was just me. It helps." She looks at him, sliding her hand up his chest, her finger tapping his chin. "This. You and me. It helps."

"Me too." Oliver holds her closer. "I wouldn't be nearly as calm without you here. With me."

With me. The words mean so much more than anything she could have imagined.

"You would," Felicity replies. And he would, she knows it. With her there or not, at the end of the day, it's Ellie who has prompted the real changes and she knows without a single doubt that Oliver would be an amazing father, no matter the circumstances. "You might be a little bit crankier, but you would."

He closes his eyes - not to avoid her, but to marvel.

"We should get that little girl of ours and go downstairs. Get this over with," Felicity says, her voice steady. In fact, her hands are steady, she's steady. Before he can say anything, she reaches up to grasp his chin, keeping him still for one more kiss as she whispers, "Thank you." Another kiss. "You seem to have a knack for calming down crazed-me."

Oliver smiles against her lips. "You're welcome. And thank you."

"You're welcome," she echoes, kissing him again. "I love you."

"I love you."

Felicity steps back, moving to wipe the light smudge of lipstick off his lips when he pulls her back into his chest, wrapping his arms around her. Oliver pushes his face into her neck, breathing her in as she hugs him back.

The quiet moment is interrupted when Ellie says something to herself from inside her pillow castle, immediately followed by a knock at the door.

Felicity jumps as Oliver stiffens. The sound of it opening has them both turning, their arms tightening just in case - Oliver's already moving her so she's behind him - but it's only Moira.

"Oh," she says, surprise coloring her features. "I didn't mean to interrupt." Her words say one thing, but the fact that she doesn't make a move to go anywhere tells Felicity everything she needs to know.

It's time to face the choir, a choir that has a horde of flashing light bulbs and painfully intrusive questions that she still hasn't really let herself think about.

"Right," Felicity says as Oliver replies, "We'll be right down."

Felicity glances over at the tent, realizing as she sees her daughter's little shadow moving back into the corner that she's fallen silent. She frowns, her stomach sinking - Ellie's only been there for a few days, but she already knows without a doubt that it's definitely not normal for her to slink back like that.

Uh oh.

She's already making her way to the tent as Moira says, "The car's out front." Oliver's hand follows Felicity until she's out of reach, and she can feel his eyes on her as Moira adds, "And Oliver, I imagine you'll want to clean up a bit more."

Felicity glances back at that - he looks amazing, what is she talking about? - to find the older woman tapping her lips. Oliver blushes - he blushes, like he's not a grown man but is actually a boy who just caught making out with a girl by his mother. It's adorable and she pinches her lips to keep from smiling as she reaches the tent.

"Ellie? You ready to go?"

No response.

Felicity leans over, peeking into the tent. "Ellie?"

The little girl in question is sitting in the far corner, still impeccably dressed in the simple Burberry sheath-dress that makes her look like the little princess she definitely is. Her shoes are off though, her hair a little tangled and it definitely looks like she's going nowhere as she picks up a doll that had shown up in their room along with the pile of clothes, smoothing its hair down.

"Hey there, Ellie-bug," Felicity says softly, getting down on her knees. She hears Oliver coming up behind her. "You ready to go?"

Ellie remains uncharacteristically quiet and Felicity's stomach sinks even further. She glances back at Oliver, who leans over to look in as well. They both watch Ellie pinch her lips together before shaking her head.

"What's the matter, Ellie-bug?" Oliver asks.

"I don't wanna go," she replies, so quietly they barely hear her.

"What?"

"I don't wanna leave," Ellie shouts, loud enough that it makes Felicity jump. The little girl's eyes never leave her doll.

"Oh," Felicity replies, not missing the sudden storm of emotions that cross Oliver's face before he reels it back in, the mixture of hurt and the need to protect her draining away until he's a little pale. He wants to say no - he wants her to go, to be with them, as much for her safety as for him - but she knows he's not about to make her do anything, not after that morning. So what then? "Um…"

"I guess…" Oliver's mouth moves soundlessly before he looks at Felicity and then Moira, whose face is pinched with sympathy.

"We need to go, Oliver," Moira reiterates gently.

"I know, I know… I guess…" he says again, looking back at Felicity. She's already shaking her head - there's no way he's going to face the press on his own, no way - as her heart cracks at the sound in his voice as he says, "I guess you could stay with her… if Sara and Digg and the security team do, too."

"Oliver-"

"No, Daddy," Ellie says abruptly, shaking her head. Her eyes are wide and painfully beautiful, and Felicity's heart cracks the rest of the way when she sees the tears shining back at her, highlighting the very real fear there. "I don't want you to go either."

Oliver's face positively breaks. "Oh, baby," he says, moving to crawl in but Felicity's already making her way in there, reaching for their daughter, not giving a damn about her dress or hair.

"Come here, sweetie," Felicity whispers and Ellie's lower lip trembles before she launches herself into Felicity's arms with a tiny sob. The doll is crushed between them, pressing painfully into her clavicle, but she doesn't care one bit as she holds her daughter closer, wishing there was a way to absorb what Ellie was feeling. Her own tears burn her eyes and she blinks them away, looking back at Oliver.

He's already crawling in with them, pressing a kiss to Ellie's head, one hand landing on Felicity's shoulder, the other rubbing gentle circles on Ellie's back.

"Your daddy has to go, honey," Felicity says, keeping her voice low, turning to speak into her ear. "He has to talk to the reporters, remember?"

"No," Ellie says, shaking her head, her voice cracking with tears. "I don't want him to."

"Ellie…"

"No!" she says, her tears falling on Felicity's neck. "Zoom will get him. Zoom will hurt him! It's safe here. The fairies made it safe! It's fairy magic. Zoom can't go fast in the castle. It makes him all slow so daddy can beat him. It's a special spot. He's never been here! Anywhere else and Daddy is going to get hurt!"

"Oh, Ellie," Oliver whispers. He kisses her head again, breathing her in and when he looks at Felicity again, his eyes are red with unshed tears. He's torn - he knows what he has to do, but she also knows that if Ellie really asked him to, he would stay, the consequences be damned. Felicity reaches out, cupping his cheek and he leans into it, closing his eyes. "I won't let that happen, okay?"

Ellie pulls back to look at him and the misery on her little face is almost too much as she clings to Felicity, staring at Oliver. Tear tracks decorate her cheeks as she whispers, "I don't want the bad man to get you again, Daddy, I don't want you to get hurt."

"What?" Oliver asks, shaking his head. "He didn't-"

"He did! He hurt you!"

"Okay, okay," Oliver whispers, nodding. "Okay."

The fact that he doesn't say he's not going isn't lost on either of them.

So Zoom hurts him in the future, badly enough that Ellie was aware of it. Was that part of the reason they sent her back, because they got hurt protecting her in the future?

The fear from earlier stampedes through Felicity's chest - that they can't protect her here. If they can't do anything in the future, what can they possibly do here? How can they possibly fight something that their future selves fall against? She holds Ellie closer, closing her eyes for a second before needing to see Oliver again. He's staring at Ellie, his face tight, his lips pinched together in a poor example of a smile, one that's probably supposed to reassure Ellie but it's not doing a great job.

And then he meets Felicity's gaze.

What are they going to do?

A soft shuffle outside the castle pulls their attention. Moira. "Oliver…"

"I know, Mom," he says, scrubbing his face.

Oliver sighs, bowing his head before looking at Ellie again. She's turned her face into Felicity's neck again, her shallow breathing starting to even out now that she's in her arms. Something deep inside Felicity clicks into place at that. There's nothing she won't do for her daughter - absolutely nothing - and if that just means holding her in this simple moment or fighting the monster chasing after her, then she'll do just that for the rest of time.

Oliver shifts closer, wrapping himself around both of them, and that has a whole other piece clicking into place. Her family, together… strong. Oliver moves so his cheek rests against Felicity's other shoulder, so he's facing Ellie, and it makes Felicity's heart skip a couple dozen beats. She could do this forever, she realizes, hold them against her just like that. In fact, once everything with the press is over, when they have a second, she thinks she might. Felicity leans her head against Ellie's as Oliver brushes her curly hair off her face, caressing her little cheek.

"Ellie," Oliver whispers. The little girl sniffles, moving her face just enough to see him. When Oliver catches her gaze, he smiles, a real smile that reaches his eyes. "Hi there."

"Hi," she replies, her voice tiny. She sniffles and her little hand finds the emblem on her necklace. She plays with it as she looks at Oliver.

"Can you do something for me?" he asks. Ellie hesitates, for a second, before nodding. Felicity feels Oliver smile. "You're so brave, baby girl." Ellie nods and it's so cute and right that Felicity can't help but chuckle. "Do you remember what happened downstairs?"

Ellie instantly stiffens. "I don't want to, Daddy."

"I know, baby, but try. Okay? Remember how Zoom went away after I got there?"

It's flimsy as hell, and Felicity fights the urge to flinch because that's not really what happened, not by a long shot… but it works. Ellie pauses, and then she nods.

Oliver smoothes Ellie's hair off her face, his hand looking so ridiculously large in comparison to her that it's shocking. He's trying to make her feel safe, and it's working for both of them.

"I won't let anything happen to you, Ellie-bug," Oliver says. "Or your mom, or me. Okay?"

"Do you promise?"

Felicity's eyes slam shut at that, at the weight of what she's asking, but Oliver doesn't even hesitate.

"I promise."

Ellie nods, sniffling again. "Okay."

Oliver smiles. "That's my girl." Felicity can feel the shift in Ellie, feel her preening under her father's pride in her, and she lifts her head, nodding again. Oliver sits up, wiping her cheeks before pressing a soft kiss to her forehead. "I love you, Ellie-bug."

"I love you too, Daddy."

Oliver turns to Felicity, his large hand cupping the back of her neck as he gives her a kiss as well. They give themselves a moment, his forehead pressing into hers, before Moira shifts outside the tent again.

"So, we're all going then?" Felicity asks, looking down at Ellie. She nods, pressing her lips together, but instead of fear on her face, now there's resolve. Felicity grins, kissing the top of her head. "You are definitely your daddy's daughter."

"I would argue that she's definitely her mother's daughter," Oliver says, making Felicity blush. "Alright then. Let's go."

Chapter Text

Despite his earlier wavering on the subject in the face of Ellie's tears - his gut clenches thinking about it again, the fear in her eyes amplifying how helpless he felt - there is no way in the world that Oliver is about to let either her or Felicity out of his sight. Not for an instant. Not after this morning. After Zoom materialized in the kitchen, reaching out for Ellie like he had every intention of wrapping his fingers around her neck and squeezing… well, he might have put on a brave face for her, but Felicity's not the only one who's going to have nightmares about that.

Given what they're facing, it makes sense that Zoom could pop up at any time. They've known since the beginning that he was chasing Ellie through time, but the reality of how ever-present the threat to her really is hadn't quite sunk in. Not until this morning. Who the hell is this guy and what does Ellie do to have him literally running through time to get her?

Still… the need to keep her close - to keep her protected - is sharply at odds with the need to keep her away from the press. Because he has to do this press conference. He has to, even if it's the very last thing he wants to be doing today.

"Oliver… I don't think you've thought this through," his mother says for what feels like the hundredth time since he's informed her he flatly refuses to allow Ellie out of his sight even for an instant. He might've entertained it earlier, might have been okay with her just being in the back, but after Ellie's reaction, now he needs to see her. It's just as important for him as it is for her. "Mister Diggle and Sara are more than capable of protecting Ellie. I understand you're shaken. I am too. But having her anywhere near those reporters is asking for trouble we simply cannot afford."

"I'm done with this conversation," Oliver tells her, rather than arguing his position again.

Ellie's tucked up against his side in the car - they really need to get her a car seat - her body lax and fully at easy because he's there. Because she feels safe with him. Even if he didn't need her with him for his own sense of security, he owes it to Ellie to be with her for hers.

"Felicity, surely you realize what a potential landmine this is?" Moira questions, changing tactics.

"It really is," Laurel chimes in - it shouldn't surprise him she's on his mother's side on this - followed by Sara's, "Digg and I can protect her, Ollie," from the driver's seat.

The Lance sisters united with his mother on anything is a bit daunting. And strange. He can't begin to process how unsettling it is that Laurel's even here, but it's weirder still the way his mother is treating her so coolly, especially when she's done nothing but voice her support for every single thing Moira has said. For a reason he can't fathom yet, his mother has taken to treating Laurel more like an employee than someone she's known since she was in pigtails.

"Felicity, darling..." Moira begins again.

The weird things about today aren't about to stop, apparently. The term of endearment throws Felicity at least as much as it does him. Her fingers spasm in his hand and she seems to choke on air, suddenly coughing violently.

"You okay?" he murmurs, attempting not to sound amused and failing spectacularly as he squeezes her hand in a silent show of support.

"Fine," she says, waving off his concern with her free hand and clearing her throat. "Just, uh… allergies or wildly shifting worldview or… something. I'm fine."

Moira quietly takes a small bottle of water from the limo mini-fridge and passes it to Felicity. The older woman is watching her like a hawk, and Oliver knows his mother well enough to be fully aware that she's evaluating how she can make her case, sway Felicity's opinion.

Luckily for him, he's pretty sure she can't.

"Thank you," Felicity tells Moira after taking a swig of water.

"Of course," Moira demures. "Now… about Ellie…"

"Oliver's right," Felicity replies immediately, backing him up like the partner she is, like the partner she's always been. "I trust Digg and Sara with my life and with Ellie's, but he's right. We're her parents and she needs us. After everything that's happened, it wouldn't be fair to her."

"I wanna stay with daddy," Ellie chimes in. She leans a little closer to him as she speaks and his arm tightens around her without even thinking about it.

"Of course you do," Moira says with forced patience lacing her tone before looking back up to Oliver and Felicity. "Of course she does, but there are dangers beyond Zoom." Ellie flinches, turning her head into his side. He holds her tighter. "We need to be smart about this."

"I'm done talking about this," Oliver informs her for the second time, more firmly than the last. "She and Felicity can be off to the side, toward the back, out of the reporters' line of sight. Digg and Sara can protect them from the press if they're noticed, but I refuse to have her somewhere I can't see her. What's the use of protecting her from the media if Zoom can just…"

Ellie shivers again, a whimper slipping past her lips and before Oliver can tell her it's going to be okay, she's climbing up onto his lap, shoving her face into his chest, clinging to his jacket. He can't finish his sentence - he can't even finish his thought - as he releases Felicity's hand to cradle her closer. Felicity rests her head on Oliver's shoulder, wrapping her arm around both of them, pressing her lips into a thin line. Her face crumples as Ellie burrows into the safety of his embrace.

"Don't make me go away," Ellie mumbles, the sound muffled by the fabric of his suit. "I wanna be with you, daddy."

"I've got you, Ellie," he vows to her quietly, his hand spanning her entire back as he holds her tightly. "You aren't going anywhere. I promise."

He ignores his mother's beleaguered sigh and Laurel's small huff. There's no denying their point, but Ellie's security far outweighs their concerns. The press will be intrusive, but they aren't about to hurt her, and he's there to mitigate everything, to keep things from getting too far out of control. It helps knowing that Felicity is in full agreement with him on this. Zoom's presence rattled her every bit as much as it did him and they're both more than a little terrified at the threat he represents.

He feels the weight of Sara's eyes on him in the rearview mirror. He knows she's appraising him, thinking through where he's at; she's aware, more than anyone else here, that he's made up his mind and that he won't be changing it.

A series of beeps prefaces her quiet, "Digg?" Oliver's gaze shifts from Ellie toward the front seat to where Sara cradles her cell phone between her ear and shoulder as she drives. "We may have a slight change in plans…"

He fully trusts Sara and Digg with press conference security, but he still makes every effort to listen in to their evolving strategy until Ellie tears his attention away. Her little fingers pull on the lapels of his jacket, tugging twice in quick succession to earn his focus.

"Can we go back home?" she asks. Her gorgeous blue eyes are huge and filling with tears as she looks up at him, inadvertently breaking his heart a bit.

"Not yet, honey," he replies, his voice heavy with regret. He makes every effort to quell her fears, wrapping his arm tighter around her tiny frame, the other hand brushing stray springy curls away from her face.

"Are you sure?" she asks, nervous fingers twisting his jacket. "I think… My fairies need me, daddy. We need to go home now."

"I'm sure Raisa will check in on them for you," he says, fully aware that this isn't her actual concern.

"But…" God help him, her little lower lip starts quivering as her eyes flood with more tears. They threaten to spill over and he's never been more tempted to tell Sara to turn the damned car around. "But… what if… what if he comes for them?"

"Oh, Ellie-bug," he manages as a tear escapes down her rosy little cheek. He wipes it away, hating how much he's seen her cry in such a short amount of time. He'd do anything to spare her this kind of terror, anything at all, but, in this case, he doesn't know how. "You don't need to worry about that. The fairies are fine and so are you, okay?"

"But…" She's shaking, trying to keep herself from crying, but she fails miserably.

Ellie lets out a hitched sob, her face crumpling before she buries her face in his chest, crying her fear into the fabric of his suit. Armani makes for a pretty terrible tissue, but Oliver can't bring himself care as he hugs her, whispering soothing noises into her hair.

"They're okay," Felicity reassures, cupping the back of Ellie's head, stroking with her thumb in a calming pattern. Her voice is steady - surprisingly so - but Oliver can see from the look on her face that it's forced for Ellie's benefit. Glassy eyes and a reddened tip to her nose make it plain to see she's still every bit as distraught by Ellie's terror as he is.

Ellie shakes her head fiercely against his chest, still not pulling away to look up at either of them.

"They are," Felicity says a little more firmly. Her eyes brighten as an idea dawns on her. "Do you know how I know that?"

Ellie tilts her head to the side, peeking one eye out to watch her mother. "How?"

"Because they have someone there to protect them. A hero," she says, sounding incredibly self-satisfied and fully confident. Her tone is enough to make Ellie look at her fully, turning her head more, but still keeping herself pressed as closely to her father as she can.

"A hero?" she sniffles, doubt weighing the word down. "What kind of hero?"

"The kind who protects people, who saves the fairy kingdom," Felicity replies, her voice hushed like it's some huge secret she's letting Ellie in on.

Ellie sits up. "Does he have superpowers?"

"Nope," Felicity says, tapping Ellie on the nose. "Just a bow and arrow and a really big heart."

It slams into him then what she's doing and his eyes snap to hers. Her unwavering faith has always astounded him. Even at his worst - even when he'd been a killer; even when he'd given up - she has always, always believed in him. That she reassures Ellie with that belief, that she passes it on to their daughter… it's indescribable the way that makes him feel. Grateful. Unworthy. So, so damned lucky he can't even believe it.

"Felicity," he says in a whisper of an exhale.

She smiles a little at him, a tiny curl at the edge of her lips and a light to her eyes that dances like she's masking a poorly kept secret. Then she turns back to Ellie and wipes away the girl's tears with her thumb before continuing.

"He'll keep them safe, Ellie. You'll see," she advises. "It's what he does. It's who he is."

Felicity's hand winds up on his chest, fingers edging beneath his tie and settling between the top two buttons. It's only her touch that makes him realize he's not actually breathing at the moment. He's overwhelmed, undone, three steps past in love with her straight on to something else that lacks a word to define it.

It isn't just how he feels about her, or how he feels about them. It's how she sees him, who he feels like he might actually be when he's with her. Oliver's never liked himself as much as he does when he sees glimpses of himself through her eyes. Felicity doesn't just believe in him - she makes him feel like maybe he can believe in himself. And that… It's addictive, hypnotic. He craves it, craves her, in a way he hadn't quite realized was possible before they'd met.

"Really?" Ellie asks, looking up at him for affirmation and momentarily breaking his focus on Felicity. "Is there a fairy hero, daddy? Do they have a Green Arrow, too?"

The name throws him for a moment, but he recovers quickly. Whatever name he goes by in the future - no matter how lame it still kinda sounds - doesn't matter in the least. It's Ellie who matters, Ellie who needs his reassurance.

"Anytime things get bad, somebody will step up to be a hero, Ellie-bug," he tells her. "Whether that means picking up a bow and arrow or… or taking a big risk to find a friend who's gone missing. If things get scary, there will always be people… or fairies… who help others."

She hums a little noise of contemplation at that, her grip on him loosening substantially as she mulls his words over. Felicity, on the other hand, tightens her grip, her fingers curling around the edge of his dress shirt, between the buttons. She tugs a bit to gain his attention, pulling him closer.

The way she looks at him sets his heart fluttering wildly. It's obvious she fully approves of his handling of the situation, but it's more than that. There's a flush to her cheeks and her blue eyes are so bright and happy as they search his.

Because he'd called her a hero, he realizes suddenly.

Maybe he's not the only one who likes the way he looks in someone else's eyes.

The moment lengthens between them and for a measureless span of time it doesn't matter in the least that his mother's there. Or Sara. Or Laurel. Or even Ellie, since she's safely perched on his lap. It's just them. Just this… look. It's unifying, fortifying, bonding in a way he couldn't have expected. The whole world boils down to the two of them and everything else fades away in the distance.

Not touching her isn't an option. It's not sexual in the least, it's more basic than that. He needs a connection, to feel her skin beneath his fingers and prove to himself that this is real. With the way she's gripping his shirt, fingertips slipping through to touch the skin just above his undershirt, he thinks she feels exactly the same way.

His free hand moves of its own accord to cup her elbow, fingers gently stroking the outside of her arm. He's infinitely glad she's wearing a sleeveless dress because the feel of her skin grounds him, roots him in this like nothing else possibly could.

It's right. It's home. It's family.

And it's everything he never knew he needed.

In spite of the trials in front of them, in spite of the risks and the harsh realities that lay in their future, he's never felt quite so much like all the pieces of his life have fit together as he does in this instant.

"Ollie." Sara's voice breaks through the confines of the bubble they've ensconsed themselves in. "We're here."

Felicity jolts at that, releasing Oliver's shirt, shaking herself like she's in a bit of a daze. She probably is. He is, anyhow.

"Come here, Ellie," Felicity says, composing herself as she reaches for the toddler and pulls her to stand in front of her.

Ellie might have settled down, but her nose is red and there are dried tear tracks on her cheeks; she's most definitely not ready to be anywhere near where reporters might spot her. Looking down at his suit, Oliver realizes he's really not either.

"I don't suppose you have a spare jacket?" Oliver asks, turning to his mother who is watching him with a hawk-like gaze that cuts right through him. What she's thinking, he has no idea, but her gaze softens, seeming almost respectful and affectionate all at once.

"I don't," she says after a moment. "But, as much as I would prefer you in a suit for this, you don't have to be. You're not a CEO anymore. With the role we're casting for you in Ellie's life, this may actually work to our advantage. Any of the reporters who are parents will surely relate to a last moment wardrobe adjustment."

"Address it directly," Laurel advises, turning her gaze from the streetside to Oliver. "Diffuse that question before it crops up."

"Okay," Oliver agrees before Ellie's giggle draws his attention.

Her eyes are closed as Felicity brushes some sort of makeup powder on her cheeks, chasing away the evidence of her earlier tears, her delighted smile chasing away any remnants of what's been an otherwise dismal morning so far.

"That's silly, momma," she says, grabbing for the brush. "Can I do it to you now?"

"Okay," Felicity relents, handing over the brush. "But just a little powder, okay? And try to be careful not to get any on my dress." Ellie takes the advice to heart. Her idea of brushing it over Felicity's skin is the brush barely touching her, and Felicity pinches her lips to keep from grinning as she says, "That's perfect, Ellie-bug."

They're perfect.

"We ready?" Sara asks, turning from the driver's seat to lean over the partition. "We've got ten minutes 'til showtime."

Oliver hesitates. He looks at Ellie and Felicity and he hesitates. Because no, he's not ready. He's explained to Ellie what's going to happen, as best he can anyhow, and they have a plan in place - a good plan, a solid plain - but he still has to get up in front of a room full of cameras and reporters and tell them all that Ellie isn't really his daughter. And he has to walk in that room separate from them. He's not sure which idea is bothering him more, at this point - disclaiming Ellie, or being apart from her and Felicity for less than five minutes.

"Digg and I've got them," Sara says, reading him like an open book. "As soon as you're in front of the mic, we'll slip in the back. You'll barely have them out of sight at all. Take a breath, Ollie." She smirks. "It's not like you're sending her off to college."

That comment does absolutely nothing to settle him. His whole body jerks, completely and totally objecting to that notion on a basic, visceral level. Sara - because she's Sara - chuckles and shakes her head.

"That was a particularly terrible idea to put in his head if you expect him to get out of the car without her, Miss Lance," Moira chastises, eyebrow raised in a challenging look that would have made anyone else wither.

Sara takes it with ease, shrugging one shoulder and grinning like she knows some kind of secret.

His mother is not amused.

"I'm going to go find Mark and go over some last minute details," Laurel announces, moving to open the door.

"Laurel," Moira ventures coolly, touching the younger woman's arm. Laurel pauses, looking back with a slight frown. "I do want to tell you how much I appreciate your discretion and your specialized legal experience. As you're well aware, there's nothing more important to me than protecting my family."

Trust Moira Queen to make a statement equal parts threat and 'thank you.'

Laurel's smart enough and has known the Queen family long enough that there's no way she misses any of the levels of meaning in Moira's words. And, indeed, Oliver finds her blinking in affronted surprise back at his mother.

"I'm happy to help," Laurel says, enunciating the words carefully. "I've always loved your family."

"Oh, of that I am well aware," Moira responds with a thin, biting smile.

"It's amazing what we'll do to protect our families," Sara says, drawing Moira's attention. "Isn't it?"

Her tone is light but her look is not. There's a challenge in Sara's eyes that Oliver's seen many times, and he knows to be wary of it, but his mother has no such respect. The two of them lock gazes with polite smiles that do nothing to mask the undertone that's swiftly filling the car, quickly putting him even on more edge that he already is.

"Everybody is very helpful and protecting everybody else," Felicity announces with a nervous laugh. "Yay us!"

It's ridiculous enough that it draws both Moira and Sara's attention, cutting through the atmosphere that's saturated the air, and thank goodness for that. His mother squaring off against Sara could not possibly end well. For anyone.

Laurel, however, takes it far less seriously than he does. She rolls her eyes dramatically, though whether that's at Felicity's anxious words or the way her sister and his mother's contest of wills is anyone's guess, and opens the door without another word. She slides out with poise, like she hasn't just been subtly berated by Moira Queen herself, and strides past Digg with her head held high. She's focused enough that she barely spares a nod in Digg's direction. The look of confusion on the other man's face as he looks at Oliver tells him very clearly that there's going to be a conversation between them in the very near future about what exactly is going on with Laurel, and probably everything else he's missed in the last twenty-four hours, which is a lot.

"Hey," Digg says in greeting when he reaches the car, bending down to look through the door Laurel had left open in her wake. "Everything's set."

Oliver nods. Resolve works its way into his bones - it's time to get this going, to get it over. The sooner he gets up in front of the press, the sooner he can head home with Felicity and Ellie. That thought alone is enough to spur him on.

He moves to get out of the car but Ellie's little hand shoots out again, grabbing his shoulder with an alarmed, "No, daddy, I wanna stay with you."

"I know," he tells her, pulling her toward him and kissing her forehead. "And you will be. It's just for a minute, okay?" She opens her mouth to argue, but he heads her off with, "And I need you to look after mommy for me. Digg and Sara can't do it alone. They need you to hold her hand, okay?"

"So… so if things get scary, I need to help her? Like the fairy hero?" she asks, all innocence and nerves.

A lump forms in his throat, making it hard to speak. Images of Ellie putting herself between Zoom and Felicity, yelling at him to leave her mommy alone wash over him with alarming clarity and he has to blink double-time to clear his vision.

"No, baby girl," he manages. "No, if things get scary it's your job to get yourself and mommy to me, okay? But they won't. This is just for a minute, and Digg and Sara will be with you the whole time. I don't want you to worry, okay?"

It takes her a second but she finally nods, uncertainty tinging her voice as she says, "Okay."

"Okay." He gives her a reassuring smile before looking up. "Felicity…"

"I've got her," Felicity promises. She leans forward, pecking him softly on the lips. "Now go sweet talk those reporters so we can get this over with."

He doubts it will be as easy as that, but she lends him the strength he needs to power forward, especially when she winks at him. It's exactly what he needs. With one last stroke of his hand through Ellie's curls, he scoots out of the limo, Diggle stepping back to make room for him, before offering his mother a hand out as well.

"Thank you, Oliver," Moira says graciously, primly straightening her suit. Oliver just gives her an affectionate nod before shrugging his jacket off. He tosses it back into the limo and rolls up his shirt sleeves.

"Digg," he starts, turning toward the other man as Sara gets out of the car to join them. "If anything-"

"Stop worrying," Diggle orders. "We've got your back. And…" He pulls something out of his pocket. "I found something that might give you a bit of an edge up there."

Oliver furrows his brow in question, but he doesn't have to ask as Diggle immediately elaborates.

"Found this last night," Digg says, placing something small in Oliver's hand. "Figured you might have a few ideas how to work it to our advantage."

"Is this…" Oliver starts, eyes widening as he examines the item in his palm.

"Sure is," Diggle confirms with a small, satisfied smile.

Possibilities race through Oliver's mind, each more promising than the last, and he finds himself grinning at the prospects in front of them.

"Thank you," he says, clasping Diggle's shoulder in gratitude.

"Anytime, man," the other man confirms. "Now get in there. We got your girls."

His heart flip-flops at the casual recognition of Ellie and Felicity being his, of him being theirs.

Slipping the item into his pocket, Oliver casts one last glance back at his family. Felicity waves and Ellie follows suit, prompting an easy grin from him as he waves back. Ellie instantly smiles, and her natural, happy response sends a surge of confidence through him - confidence that they are doing the right thing and that this will work. Following Felicity's suit, Oliver winks at both of them and he swears he sees Felicity blush before he turns to head into his mother's campaign headquarters.

Over the years, Oliver has spent a lot of time in front of the press, but he hasn't seen a mass of reporters like the crowd inside his mother's office since right after he got back from the island. He'd known this would be a big deal - the crowd at the gates last night had been proof enough for that - but there's a difference between knowing it and seeing it.

The din of questions shouted at him as he walks into the room is deafening. They clamor with questions he can't even hear, the raised voices creating a wall of white noise. They have to know he won't answer - not now - but they don't seem to care. They're hungry for a story and they'll aggressively pursue that, even when it's about to be given to them on a silver platter.

"If you could all give Mr. Queen a moment to get to the mic, we can get started," a voice says from overhead - Mark, his mother's campaign manager, is at the podium, waving them closer.

Oliver forces what he hopes is a convincing smile onto his face and keeps a hand on his mother's elbow as the two of them ignore the blinding lights of flashbulbs and make their way to the microphone. The flashing lights only seem to grow more insistent and he forces himself to maintain a happy facade as he covers the mic, leaning back towards Laurel and Mark..

"Laurel, if you're right about Blood, his people are going to hit back after this," Oliver advises them both. "I've got something they aren't going to expect."

Laurel merely raises her eyebrows in question at that, but Mark instantly blanches, looking like he's about to grab Oliver bodily as he says, "Oliver, what-"

"Trust me," Oliver cuts him off. "This is going to help us."

He doesn't wait for either of them to respond before he turns back toward the microphone. He pauses, surveying the crowd, taking a second… His mother's a few steps away, her presence looming, and after a second, through the blinding light of cameras going off, he catches sight of Diggle slipping into the back of the room. He holds his breath, waiting, and then there's a flash of a familiar blonde ponytail from behind him, mostly blocked by Digg's bulky frame.

Oliver's mind instantly settles knowing Felicity and Ellie are there.

Time to take control of this mess, then.

"Sorry for the delay, everybody," Oliver says with a winning smile that almost feels genuine. "And for the lack of the rest of my suit. As some of you might know, little kids have a way of destroying clothing."

The reference to Ellie sets them off all over again, the crowd shouting anew, thrusting microphones forward. They're like fish competing for food that's just been sprinkled into their aquarium. The surge in noise and energy that comes at him stuns him for a second - it's amazing how much this tiny story has blown up already.

It's pointless trying to say anything in the face of this and he just shakes his, looking back at his mother. Moira maintains her composure with all of the class he'd expected, giving him a look that says, 'I know. Patience.'

Mark comes forward, speaking loudly into the microphone. "If you'll all settle down a moment, Mr. Queen will make a statement." The noise slowly dies down, until it's just a few random questions being tossed at them. Mark handles it like the pro he is. "We'd ask that everyone save your questions for the end. We might have a chance to take a few if we can get this moving along."

At the promise of their questions being fielded at the end, they finally quiet down, but Oliver's not sure he's ever had so many microphones and cameras in his face before in his life.

"Yesterday afternoon, a lot of you reported that I have a daughter," he starts off. The press collectively holds their breaths, hanging on his every word, suddenly so silent you could hear a pin drop. "I wish I could say that I do, because I would do anything to be Lily's father. But I'm not. I think we're all well aware of where I was three or four years ago and I certainly wasn't in any position to become someone's father.

"Those of you who paid attention to gossip when I was at the helm of Queen Consolidated are probably aware of the rumors that circulated about myself and my assistant, Felicity Smoak," he continues, unable to keep his gaze from flitting toward where she stands in the back of the room. "While there was never anything tawdry or scandalous about our relationship, I do have to admit that I'm madly in love with her and have been for…" His brain races to quantify it, but he can't. He meets Felicity's eyes. "For quite some time."

Even from across the room he can see the pleased flush working its way across her cheeks and the reporters break into a dull murmur. He raises his hand in an indication he's going to continue and they settle again.

"She has custody - for the time being - of a relative's child," Oliver says. "Lily's young, very young... and in the time she's been with Felicity she's come to view us both as her parents. It's a role I am more than happy to fill. Family has always been important to me - it's a value taught to me by my mother - and I love that little girl like she was my own. Because of an ongoing court case for permanent custody, there's very little I can say about the situation except to express that while I might not be Lily's father, I'm lucky enough to fill the role of her dad and I will cherish that spot in her life as long as I have the opportunity to."

He wasn't sure what he was expecting - best case scenario has all of them suddenly losing interest and leaving - but that's definitely not the case. Like they're one collective being, they take advantage of the natural end of his little speech and surge forward, clamoring for more, calling his name like that alone might earn them his attention.

"Oliver. Oliver!"

He can't ignore them. Not when they've still got such a vested interest in Ellie, so he picks one, a heavyset black woman he vaguely recognizes as a political reporter from the Starling City Post. She's respectable, at least, not a gossip columnist from the local tabloid.

She steps forward a bit and the others hush around her through some unspoken agreement that Oliver really can't begin to understand.

"Given that the cornerstone of your mother's campaign has always been her dedication to her family, was it your decision to keep Lily out of the public eye or hers?"

"It was mutual," Oliver replies without hesitation. "And one we consulted on with ADA Laurel Lance since she's agreed to serve as Felicity's legal counsel in family court. But ultimately it came down to Felicity's call. She's the one with custody. We all agreed it was in Lily's best interest to shield her from the media as much as possible. Obviously Alderman Blood made that impossible."

And oh, do the press smell the blood in the water at that.

"What does that mean? Oliver. What do you mean by that?" shouts someone toward the front.

"Look," Oliver says, "I'm not sure who planted surveillance cameras on private property to get covert pictures of a three-year-old and I can't accuse the Alderman of that. But I do know he immediately took advantage by exploiting a child for political gain. It is disturbing that someone I once counted as a friend would use a little girl like that. It definitely would have cost him my vote if he'd had it."

"Mr. Queen!" calls the first woman he'd addressed, earning his attention back and a nod for her to continue. "That's a serious accusation of criminal activity. Do you have any proof of these alleged surveillance cameras?"

It's the exact question he was hoping he'd get.

"Yes, I've got proof right here," he says, pulling the small camera out of his pocket and holding it up. "My security detail found this outside my sister's business and there's a dozen more like it that we've found planted all over my mother's house."

The room positively buzzes at this revelation. He's shifted the story and he knows it - it's gone from a secret child and prospective sex scandal to something considerably more clandestine and no less attractive to the press.

"I can't tell you who put them there," Oliver continues, gaining everyone's attention again. "But I can definitely see who might profit from spying on my family… either politically or in business."

A hand appears followed by a reporter with thick glasses and a thicker mustache who asks, "Are you accusing Alderman Blood and Isabel Rochev?"

Oliver bites his tongue to keep from giving the man a pleased smirk at the sharp question.

"The only thing I have evidence to accuse them of is using an innocent little girl for political gain," he answers. "I'll leave any other accusations to the police."

Shouted questions fill the air again and Oliver points at the next reporter. The young man opens his mouth to ask his question but before he can make a sound, the room suddenly goes dark.

For a split second, it's pitch black save for the cameras still flashing - it's nothing, a power surge, the lights faltering - but it's enough for Oliver's heart to damn well near jump right out of his chest, sending a kick of adrenaline rocketing through him. It was just that morning that someone tried to tear through time to snatch his daughter away from him and yesterday another one held her hostage…

But even if that hadn't been enough to have panic flooding him, Ellie's startled shriek would have.

The lights flicker back to life, just in time for him to see a terrified three-year-old barreling toward him, weaving her way through the press with a speed that's dizzying.

"El-... Lily!" Felicity shouts, barely catching herself as she pushes her way past the reporters, but Ellie doesn't slow down, not until she's reached Oliver. He doesn't even have to think - he's already kneeling down, opening his arms to her. Ellie throws herself at him, latching her arms around his neck tightly as he picks her up.

"Hey, hey, you're okay," he whispers, holding her close, smoothing her hair down. "I've got you, baby, it's okay. Why didn't you stay with mommy?"

Ellie buries her face in his neck, her voice so small as she replies, "You said if things got scary to get to you."

He had said that. Oliver smiles, nodding, pressing a quick kiss to her forehead. A power surge wasn't exactly what he'd had in mind, but he can't bring himself to care. There's no part of her rushing for the safety she knows she'll find in his arms that he'll ever regret. He's damn proud of that actually, and if the flashbulbs going off wildly are any indication, his face reflects just that.

Felicity finally pushes her way through the crowd to his side, her hand landing on his shoulder, and when he looks up at her, he flinches when a camera flash nearly blinds him.

"Can you guys stop it with the flashes, please?" Oliver asks, unable to keep the edge out of his tone. "She's scared, and she's already been through some pretty traumatic things before she came to stay with us. Your cameras aren't helping."

The room as a whole hesitates before doing just that, leaving behind a disquiet murmur that fills the room. While a few cameras still click, at least the flashbulbs stop.

"What exactly has she been through?" one reporter asks.

"The bad man came to get me," Ellie replies before Oliver can stop her.

"And we aren't going to talk about that," Laurel says smoothly, stepping up to the mic. "That's strictly off the record."

The reporter shrugs in challenge, replying, "She volunteered it," as if it's perfectly natural to talk to a toddler about this.

"She's also three years old," Laurel counters before Oliver can say just that. "I won't have you jeopardizing a custody battle for the sake of your curiosity. It's off the record. So stop."

His face twists in aggravation before he huffs out an unkind, "Fine." He scratches through some notes on his pad of paper.

"Can I…" starts another reporter, stepping forward. "Can I ask her a question? Not about what she's been through, nothing intrusive like that."

Oliver's about to say, 'Hell no,' regardless of the fact that he sort of respects the fact that the reporter actually asked, when Ellie pulls back to look at her.

"You look like Maria," Ellie says. "Only your hair's not silver like hers."

"My name's Maria too," the reporter replies with a kind smile. Her eyes dart to Oliver and then Felicity, like she's trying to ensure she's not overstepping her bounds.

"It's a pretty name," Ellie says. "I like my Maria. Momma says she says nice things about Daddy. Sometimes people don't and it makes her sad."

Oliver's brow furrows at that, looking down at Ellie, trying to read between the lines of what she's saying, but he doesn't have enough information, not by a long shot. It doesn't help that he doesn't know this woman at all, doesn't recognize her in the least, although he feels infinitely better seeing the recognition in Ellie's eyes.

"What newspaper are you with?" Oliver asks the reporter.

"Glades Weekly," she replies with the kind of pride that only comes from hard work. "It's new. We had our first issue two months ago."

"I know it," Oliver tells her, watching her smile spread at the recognition. "You're Maria Escobar? The editor, right?"

"I am, and about a dozen other things too," she says with a self-aware laugh. "We're a small paper, but the Glades needed a community paper that speaks to what's going on there, a voice for the people."

Oliver raises an eyebrow. "And that voice wants to ask my three-year-old a question?"

"Well," Maria says with a shrug. "That voice still needs to sell ad space, Mr. Queen."

She has a point, and he respects her honesty. But more than that, he wasn't lying when he'd said he knew her paper. Felicity had brought the very first issue down to the foundry and triumphantly tossed it in front of him, pointing at the headline with a bright red-painted nail: Arrow Saves Six Lives, Police Funds Grossly Misused In Pursuit Of Hero.

"Ask your question, Ms. Escobar," Oliver says, and the woman's eyes widen in delight. "But I'm going to stop her from answering if I don't like it."

"Of course," Maria demures, before turning to Ellie. To her credit, the way she softens is visible as she speaks to the little girl. "You seem to love your daddy very much."

Ellie lights up at the comment and nods with great enthusiasm.

"He's the best daddy ever," she advises. Her tone is incredibly serious, like she recognizes the weight of a roomful of reporters' eyes on her. "And he keeps me safe and plays with me and lets me have ice cream sometimes."

Oliver chuckles at that - she really, really loves ice cream. Ellie looks at him as if for confirmation, and when he nods, she grins.

Maria smiles, charmed by Ellie's effortless show of adoration. "That's wonderful." She pauses, leaning a little closer, and Oliver braces himself for what she's about to ask. "But you have another daddy too, don't you? This daddy isn't your real daddy, right?"

Oliver freezes, fighting to keep his face still. He can't tell Ellie not to answer. Maria's stayed true to her word and kept the question gentle, but more importantly if he intervenes, it would undermine everything he's done here. That doesn't change the fact that she's three and that he has no idea what she's about to say.

He holds his breath.

Ellie's brows draw together in consternation. After a moment, she says, "I had a daddy before." She pats Oliver's chest. "But this is daddy too. And maybe he's not really my daddy yet, but he will be someday."

Relief nearly makes him collapse and the sigh Oliver lets out is only made louder by the fact that Felicity and his mother let out heavy exhales at the same moment. The reporter looks at them strangely and Oliver can't really blame her for that considering she doesn't realize Ellie just gave her best possible answer ever, but he doesn't stop to focus on that. Instead he kisses Ellie's temple and slides an arm around Felicity's waist. He pulls her flush against him as she steps closer, fitting so perfectly into his side it's hard to believe.

It's freeing, being with them like this, in front of the press - it's like he's telling everyone that this is his choice, this is his life and he's so incredibly happy with it that it almost seems a little unbelievable.

Felicity looks up at him, pride shining on her face.

Room full of reporters or not, that's a hard thing for him to look away from.

He's vaguely aware of the crowd shifting as Mark steps forward, announcing Moira will be answering a few questions as well. When she steps forward, some of the larger networks turn to her, pulling the spotlight away from them. The scandal of Ellie's existence seems to have fizzled out, turning out to be nowhere near the dramatic story they were all hoping to get.

"You know…" Maria ventures, pulling Oliver's attention back to her. She smiles, looking at Felicity. "I'd love to ask the two of you a few questions, too. An exclusive might be nice." Oliver can't help the bark of laughter at her brazenness, but Maria is undeterred. "There's a lot of voters in the Glades who aren't necessarily leaning in your mother's direction. I'm sure you understand why. Having a nice piece about your family might sway a few minds and gain me some advertisers."

Her honest really is so damn refreshing, but that doesn't mean he's going to be sitting down to tell her his life story any time soon.

"What's your circulation again?" Oliver asks, raising an eyebrow at her, both of them well aware that her readership likely isn't that impressive yet. "CNN is right there."

"Quality over quantity," Maria replies. "How many CNN viewers are voters in Starling City? Every one of my readers lives right here."

She's not entirely wrong, and if Ellie is to be believed, she might be an ally in the press for the Arrow in the future. Maybe. It's enough to give him pause anyhow.

"I'll consider it," he allows, not missing the blatant surprise on Felicity's face at his response.

"Channel 52 would be thrilled to have a sit-down with you two on camera, you know," chimes in a nearby reporter he vaguely recognizes from the nightly news. "If you've got things to say, you'll reach more locals on tv than you will in any paper. And, let's be honest, you've both got a face made for television."

Maria huffs, turning on the other reporter with a glare just as their colleagues - competitors, really - start muscling in, making their own pitches for an exclusive. Oliver barely keeps himself from rolling his eyes, the underlying bickering that slowly grows louder starting to grate at his nerves as they try to one-up each other.

"They're very loud, daddy," Ellie says, wrinkling her little nose in distaste.

"Yes they are," he replies just as Sara says, "Ollie," in a tone he more than recognizes from where she and Diggle stand behind them.

Oliver leans back to hear her as she steps closer, dropping her voice. Her eyes dart around the room, surveying for threats even as she speaks. A wave of gratitude and awe fills his chest - it's a rare person who would accept the last few days as graciously as she has, including going from girlfriend to bodyguard for her ex-boyfriend, his daughter and his daughter's mother in the space of forty-eight hours.

Whatever their relationship might be, he will always be tremendously grateful for Sara's presence in his life.

"My father called," Sara says in a hushed voice. "SCPD is watching the news." Oliver tenses, already know where she's going with this. "If you don't want them showing up here to follow up on the bugging allegations, we need to get back to the manor." She meets his eyes to convey the urgency. "Now."

He definitely does not want them showing up to investigate that in the middle of a press conference. Felicity's tiny, "Oh," tells him she more than agrees.

"Excuse us," Oliver says, his hand slipping down to grab Felicity's, tugging her along with him. "If you all have more questions, you can run them through Mark. We have other obligations we need to see to. Thank you for your time, everyone." As an afterthought, he says with a nod, "Maria, I'll give you a call."

There's a disgruntled murmur throughout the mass of reporters, but Oliver ignores it, twining his fingers through Felicity's. He slides his thumb gently along the curve of hers as he leads the way toward his mother.

"Pardon us," Oliver says with a disingenuous smile toward the CNN camera before leaning in to speak lowly to his mother. "We need to leave. The police are investigating the bugging and they want to talk to us immediately. We can't have them here."

She doesn't even look at him, but smiles tightly toward the reporters and nods as she soaks in his words.

"Well then," Moira announces with a regal air. "We have a pressing engagement to get to. Mark, if you'll stay behind to wrap things up? I'd be more than happy to schedule an interview in the near future. Thank you all so much for coming today. It means a great deal to me and I'm grateful for the support so many have offered as my family has come under attack."

Moira's wave is appropriately resplendent as she ignores the questions being lobbed at them while they hurry to the exit. When the cool morning air touches their face and daylight floods their vision, they all let out a collective sigh of relief. The doors close behind them, cutting off the sound of Mark addressing the reporters' lingering questions.

"That went well… ish," Felicity says. "I think it did anyhow. Did it?"

"It went fine," Oliver confirms opening the car door and putting Ellie on the seat. "I'm not sure we could have expected any better."

"True," Felicity replies and Oliver cups her elbow, pulling her closer to him to make room for Moira to slide in next. Oliver nods to Diggle for him to go next as Sara and Laurel climb into the front of the car. Felicity pats his chest, right over his heart. "You did a great job."

"Thank you." Oliver smiles. "Let's get home."

He makes room for Felicity to get in before following suit. Ellie's scurries into his lap, happily humming the theme song to Rascal the Raccoon under her breath. It will never cease to amaze him how quickly she bounces back, how easily she copes with all of the chaos in her life.

The second he closes the door behind him, Moira says, "Alderman Blood's people will hit back."

"Not if the police can find a link between him and the cameras," Oliver points out.

"That's a big 'if,' Oliver," Moira replies. "The local police are not exactly known for their investigative work." She raises her eyebrows for emphasis. "Which is something that usually benefits you a great deal."

"They'll find it if we make sure they find it," Felicity says, earning everyone's attention. "We could… plant some bread crumbs here and there… steer their attention the right way."

"I can't hear this," Laurel says, shaking her head as she turns to face forward in the front seat. "I'm going to pretend you aren't talking about planting evidence because otherwise it would put me in a very uncomfortable position right now."

"Not planting," Felicity says, "exactly. More like… placing a giant blinking neon arrow over it saying 'Look Here'." She glances at Oliver. "No pun intended about the arrow bit."

He chuckles, reaching over to touch her knee, rubbing his thumb in a gentle circle against her soft skin. Her legs are bare; it's both intimate and comforting. When she shifts closer to him, ducking her head to hide the flush creeping across her chest, he knows she feels it too.

"We'll talk more on the way to the manor," Oliver says. "For now, we need to get home. And we need to do it before we have any visitors there."

Ultimately, they get there pretty quickly. They beat Captain Lance there, but getting there before any visitors?

Well… that might have been too much to ask.

Chapter Text

Felicity is almost at ease by the time they reach the manor. For the first time in what feels like weeks - really, it's only been days, and she knows that, but weeks fits so much better considering how much has happened - she lets herself feel cautiously optimistic. Oliver absently rubs his hand over her back as they listen to Ellie's plans with her fairies, putting her even more at ease, especially when she rests her hand on his leg and he leans into her.

Things went well, at least as well as any of them could have possibly expected. They'd come away from the press conference with everything leaning in their favor. The media seemed to have bought every word that was said and, while Oliver had done as well as she'd known he would, Ellie had played her part so beautifully it might as well have been scripted.

So, at least some things outside of their control seem to be going well. And the closer they get to home, the more Felicity lets herself relax, falling into an amusing discussion about the ins and outs of fairy politics according to her daughter. Even the inevitable police interview coming up can't break through the little bubble of peace they find themselves in.

That all comes to a screeching halt, though, when they pull through the gates to Queen Manor and roll to a stop under the porte-cochère. Because there are items waiting on the front stoop. Very, very telling items.

Felicity physically feels the blood draining from her face.

"Oh… oh god, no," she says, shaking her head. "Oooh god, this is terrible. Oliver, we need to leave. Now. Immediately. Right now."

"What?" Oliver asks, his whole frame stiffening, instantly tugging Ellie closer to his chest protectively. "What's wrong?"

His eyes barely skate over the items before he looks around, seeking something far more threatening than the pink rhinestone-covered luggage sitting neatly in front of the entrance to the manor. He doesn't get it. He doesn't know what those represent. He cannot possibly appreciate what is waiting for them inside or the fact that she so, so does not have the mental capacity to handle this right now.

Felicity ignores him, looking at Sara. "We have to go. Can we go?"

Sara just raises an eyebrow, making a face at her in the mirror, her brows knitting together in confusion - probably because she's already done a sweep, she's already checked in, she's well aware that the area is actually very safe, and there's no reason to leave.

They're all so wrong. This is so bad on so many levels Felicity can't even begin to explain it. And what's worse is she knows that Oliver won't see this for what it is, won't really get why the sight of those bags has her on the verge of a panic attack.

There is no way in which her mother will make this whole mess better.

None.

"Felicity…" A frown is fixed on Oliver's face as he meets Sara's eyes before looking back at Felicity, but her eyes are still glued on the luggage. "Whose are those? Who's here?"

Ellie sits up, straining her neck to see what they're talking about. The instant she sees the luggage, delight lights up her face like a Christmas tree, and the ramifications of that hit Felicity like a Mack truck.

"Gramma!" Ellie squeals, bouncing with excitement. Oliver's eyebrows shoot up, mouthing the words, 'Your Mom?' at Felicity as Ellie glances back at her, pointing at the bags. "Momma, Gramma's here!"

The only response Felicity can manage is a nod with a strangled laugh that lodges itself in the back of her throat. She buries her face in her hands. She can't even begin to process how this is going to play out. Her mother is… well, she's her mother, and saying she's dramatic is like saying fire burns. In fact, her presence is very much like throwing gasoline on a fire, one you're trying to let die.

Since the second she'd seen her mother's face lighting up her phone that morning, Felicity had hoped that the press conference would blow things over and that the news that Ellie was in fact not really her child might magically implant into her mother's head that there was no reason to call, or show up, or do anything… but she'd known that was too much to ask. If she'd let herself really think things through instead of burying her head in the sand, Felicity might've even planned something for it.

But she didn't, because the thought of dealing with that had been too much. It still is.

So, of course, naturally it shows up on her doorstep.

Felicity lets out a wail-laced groan.

"Hey, we can deal with this," Oliver says softly. "We managed the press. I'm sure we can manage your mother."

She can only laugh at that because it's said with the sort of certainty stated by someone who has never met her mother.

"Felicity-" he starts again.

"How are we going to explain Ellie to her, Oliver?" she interrupts, the words laced with a mania she can't even hope to control. "What actual relative's kid do I have custody of? My cousin Stacy," Felicity says with air quotes, emphasizing the paper trail she'd laid the second they'd come up with the plan for the press, "who is in upstate New York for her third stint in rehab might work for the press and the police, but not my mother. And how do we keep Ellie from making it incredibly clear that she knows my mom? Asking her to keep quiet in front of reporters is one thing, but pretending she doesn't know her grandmother?"

"We… uh…" Oliver responds, his mouth working soundlessly as he tries to come up with something. But there's nothing, because her mother doesn't know any of it. She only knows Felicity had a job at QC, not that she knew Oliver, and definitely not that she's secretly working with the bow-wielding Starling City vigilante.

As the weight of what's very likely going to happen when they go inside starts hitting him, Oliver pales slightly. Really, it's probably mostly because of the insane way she's staring at him, like he just told her he's getting up in front of the cameras to publically declare himself the Arrow, but still. He's paling. Good, he needs to appreciate how dire this is.

Oliver shrugs. "Well, we… we could…"

"You tell her the truth."

Moira.

Felicity damn near gives herself whiplash with how quickly her head snaps up to meet her future mother-in-law's gaze. She can't possibly have heard her correctly.

Felicity blinks. "Did you honestly just suggest I tell my mother that my future child was sent back in time to be protected by me and her future father who is actually a secret superhero?"

Her voice echoes through the limo cabin, the words so sharply incredulous it makes Diggle and Laurel wince, only emphasizing Oliver's visible reaction to the word 'superhero.'

"I'm not a…" he starts, honestly bashful at her declaration, which is ridiculous. It's not even a thing he can argue at this point. Honestly, he fights crime in a mask, she's pretty sure that's in the definition. A sketch of The Arrow might as well be next to the word superhero in the dictionary.

But that is so not the point right now, because his mother just suggested the most outrageous…

"I did," Moira confirms.

"That is a terrible idea," Felicity declares, nearly choking on the words. She looks around the limo for anyone to back her up. "You guys know this is a terrible idea, right? Like invading Russia in winter levels of terrible. Or maybe trusting Malcolm Merlyn about anything ever."

Moira winces at that, her jaw tightening as Sara bites back a delighted grin. Alright, maybe not the most appropriate comparison ever, but it's up there.

"I'm not sure we have much of a choice," Laurel points out.

"No, no, we do," Felicity counters. "We really do. We have gas, right? Turn the car around and go. No mom, no problem. Central City's not that far, right? I hear their housing market is really good right now."

"Hey," Oliver says, turning to face her. He situates Ellie between them, his hand finding Felicity's back again. She looks at him, ready to launch into all the positives of buying a house in Central City right now, but he cuts her off with a soft, "Felicity, relax."

His voice is low and only for her. He ducks his head to catch her eyes as he rubs comforting patterns against her back… except this time it isn't helping. If anything, it only makes the panic grow because it's not just the whole time traveling thing, or that she has a daughter all of a sudden. It's also that in the space of a few days, she and Oliver have gone from something really platonic to something really not-platonic.

Before she can tell him any of that though, Laurel turns in the front seat to look back at them.

"What happens with the press if your mother doesn't back our story?" she prods. "What if she says she thinks Ellie is actually yours? Or worse, what if she says she's never seen her before and she doesn't have any idea what you're talking about, and that Ellie isn't a relative? We can't afford the police digging around into that."

God, Felicity really hates logic, but Laurel's right. She can fake a paper trail like nobody else, but if they investigated at all, they might take Ellie away. The thought of that happening is like a swift kick to the gut, quickly followed by another because if they took her away, who would protect her from Zoom? The thought of him getting through this time, of taking her because nobody is there to stop him…

They need her mother's support. Or, at the very least, they need her not to contest what they're saying.

Felicity knows this, but that doesn't make it any easier to accept.

It's only when Oliver whispers, "Breathe, Felicity," that she realizes she hasn't been. Felicity sucks in a ragged gasp and the gentle smile he shoots her keeps her bids for air from coming a little too quickly.

"So how do we do this?" she asks, her voice unsteady as she looks around the limo. "Not just in a 'what words do we say' kind of way, but how do we convince her time travel is an actual thing that exists outside of the Doctor Who marathons I've made her sit through?"

"Together," Oliver immediately replies, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles. "You're not doing this alone."

"You're not alone, momma," Ellie pipes in, gazing up at her with earnest eyes. They're so big and blue and she looks so much like Oliver for a split second that Felicity lets out a slightly astonished chuckle. She moves without thinking to smooth her hand over Ellie's hair. She thinks it's to reassure her daughter before realizing it's mostly for herself. Because Ellie's right, she's not alone and she'll never be alone again.

That thought swirls through her head, wrapping around her, filling her. Her mother will always be her family, yes, but this right here, this is her family, the family she made. And they'll be there at her side, the entire time.

"And Ellie's pretty convincing," Oliver adds with a little smile. "It's hard not to look at her and see you. Your mom would know either way." Felicity looks at him - she couldn't lie even if she wanted to - and he levels her with a steady look. "It'll be fine."

She hopes with everything in her that he's right.

He nods, like he's reading her thoughts, and it makes her smile. And just like that, the tension bubble in her chest bursts.

"Did she bring Pop-Pop?" Ellie asks, buzzing with excitement again. "Do you think she brought me presents? Can she do my nails, Momma?"

"Uh…"

She can't even begin to process that, much less answer. Having Oliver and Ellie with her might help, but she's so not ready to face the reality of her mother bonding with her future daughter. Nope, not yet.

One thing at a time.

"How about we give it a bit, okay?" Felicity replies. Ellie's grin instantly melts into a pout, her body deflating as she slouches back against the leather. "You can see her in a while, but Daddy and I want to talk to her first."

"I'd like to be there as well," Moira chimes in. Felicity closes her eyes. So much for one thing at a time. Moira and her mother in the same room? And to say nothing of Oliver meeting her mother? Oh, she is so unprepared for this. "One new grandmother to another, I'm in a unique position to relate to her."

And that may be the most ridiculous notion Felicity has ever heard. Not that there isn't common ground between them on this particular issue, but the idea that Moira Queen and Donna Smoak have something to relate to each other over… Well, Felicity has no idea how to make sense of that. They're possibly the most opposite women she can imagine.

But there's also nothing she can say that won't come out sounding a little too rude, like, 'Hell no.'

"Okay then," Oliver says. He nods toward Ellie. "Digg, Sara, can you…"

"We've got her," Diggle agrees.

"If anything happens…" Oliver starts.

"We can protect her, Ollie," Sara says, cutting him off. "Anything happens and she'll scream, we'll fight, you'll hear it. It's not like we're going anywhere." Felicity can see Oliver biting the tip of his tongue at her irreverent words, all of them knowing she's not really being flippant, but that she's still making a point. Sara gives him a look. "We'll be with her the entire time."

He fidgets a bit. Being away from Ellie isn't ideal - in fact, it makes Felicity's stomach feel really, really hot - but they can't be with her around the clock, and even if they are with her, it doesn't change the danger she's in. She's going to need eyes on her constantly, and not just Moira - or god forbid, Donna - but people who know how to protect her, and they'll need help with that. If it's not Oliver, then it has to be Digg or Sara. It's an understanding that resonates with everyone in the limo. Felicity's suddenly so grateful for all of them she almost starts crying. They might've been able to do this on their own, but with their friends there to help them, it's easier. And maybe even a little safer.

Oliver nods and looks at the little girl. "Ellie, you're going to stay with Diggle and Sara for a bit, okay?"

Maybe it's because they're back at Queen Manor or maybe it's just because she's three and has all of the fickleness that goes along with her age, but Ellie takes to this notion with a lot more ease than she did at the press conference, shrugging a little in reply.

"Is Sara here to play with?" Ellie asks, looking toward Digg.

"She's right there, kiddo," he replies, nodding toward the driver's seat.

"Not that Sara, silly," Ellie huffs, like he's trying her patience. "Your Sara."

"My…" Diggle starts, his eyes bugging out. "My Sara?"

"Yeah," Ellie agrees, completely missing how much she's just floored him. "I wanna show her the fairy castle. She can be my vice president!"

Diggle pauses, staring at Ellie with a heaviness Felicity's never seen on his face before. "Sara's… my daughter?"

"Uh huh," Ellie confirms. "She's my bestest friend ever."

Diggle clearly has no idea how to handle that, or how to respond, but the way his eyes dart toward her and Oliver tell her that she was right. He already knew.

"How far along is Lyla?" Felicity asks.

Diggle huffs out an incredulous laugh, already confirming what Felicity suspected without having to say anything as wonder skates over his features.

"Not very," he finally replies. "She's due this Fall. We weren't telling anyone yet."

"Ellie, how old is Little Sara?" Oliver asks.

"Seven," Ellie replies.

"Does she have any brothers or sisters?" Felicity prods, knowing full well that asking these kinds of questions is probably a terrible idea. No, not probably, definitely, because it has the potential to change so much. But they've already changed things, haven't they? Ellie just being here has changed things. Right?

"Nope," Ellie replies. She sits up taller, crawling onto Oliver's lap to look out the window. Ellie presses her fingertips to the glass as she eyes her grandmother's distinctive luggage. "But I'm like her sister. She says so."

Ellie's three-and-a-half… they have four years - more or less - until they have her. Something about that makes it more firm, more real, like she can see the path in front of her.

And it shoots a thrill straight through her.

Oliver's of the same mind, his eyes intent as he asks, "When is your birthday, Ellie?"

"The seventeenth," she replies with proud flourish.

"Of what?" Felicity asks.

"I dunno." Ellie shrugs. "Just the seventeenth." She spins to face Felicity again. "Why can't I go see Gramma?"

The kid can change subjects like nothing Felicity's ever seen before, and that's saying something considering it's her thinking that.

"It's…" she starts, but the words fail her pretty quickly. "It's complicated. Just let me and Oliv- uh… Daddy talk to her first, okay?"

Ellie huffs. "Fine."

"I have an idea," Oliver says, tugging on Ellie's sleeve. "Why don't you take Uncle Digg and Aunt Sara to the fairy castle?"

Ellie perks up visibly at that, letting out an exuberant, "Yeah!" before she's scrambling off Oliver's lap.

Diggle - who'd been staring at the floor with a soft smile on his face - looks up with raised eyebrows, and Oliver says, "It's a treehouse in the backyard. It'll give her something to do that's close, but out of the way."

"Come on, Uncle Digg!" Ellie grabs his hand, wrapping hers around one of his fingers to tug him to the door. "It's the best and then you can tell Sara about it, 'cause she's gonna love it." Ellie pulls on him like she could actually have the strength to move him. He's so obviously amused by her excitement that he goes along with it, scooting along the seat toward the door.

"Have fun," Felicity says, feeling the strangest urge to follow them. For a split second, everything else doesn't matter all that much - her mother being there, the press conference, time travel, even Zoom to an extent, because she's suddenly just a mom leaving her kid with a babysitter for the first time. She wants to go with them, to make sure it is safe, that things go well. Is this what it's like for all parents? Or are her nerves owing entirely to Zoom's looming threat? It's probably a little bit of both. "And be good. And listen to them, okay?"

"Uh huh," Ellie replies without even looking back as Diggle opens the door. Ellie climbs out first, a bundle of excitement as everyone follows suit. When Sara doesn't get out right away though, Ellie slips past Felicity and Oliver to yell into the car, "Come on, Big Sara!"

Sara chuckles. "I'm coming, munchkin." She gets out, rounding the limo, and when she reaches them, Ellie immediately grabs her hand too, pulling them both in the direction of her beloved treehouse.

Felicity must have a look on her face because Oliver chuckles, his hand finding her lower back, but she only has eyes for her daughter.

"Bye, Ellie," Felicity calls out, trying not to feel affronted when all she gets in return is a distracted "Yeah, bye, Momma," in reply without so much as a backwards glance.

That hurts. Why does that hurt? How ridiculous is that?

"She'll be fine," Oliver says.

"I know," Felicity replies. "It's just…"

Moira steps up next to them. "You'll find that when your children are secure in your presence - when they take for granted that you will be there for them, a permanent fixture in their lives - they can be more dismissive." The older woman has a soft smile on her face as she touches Felicity's arm. "It might not seem like it at the moment, Felicity, but that's a good thing. In spite of everything going on in her life, she doesn't worry about you being there for her. The thought wouldn't even occur to her."

The words have the impact Felicity's pretty sure they're meant to, and she's returning Moira's smile before she knows what she's doing. They don't lessen the sting of Ellie's abrupt departure in the least, but the truth behind Moira's words is warming. Thinking about it that way gives it a whole new meaning, a meaning that has a lot of weight, a meaning that illustrates the happy and safe life she and Oliver manage to build for Ellie in the future.

Still, as distracted as she is by those thoughts, she doesn't miss the look between Oliver and his mother. It's undeniable that things had been tense between them before Ellie's sudden appearance in their lives. Moira's secrets and lies - more importantly, the way they'd impacted Oliver and Thea - had made their relationship uneasy at best and contentious at worst. But Ellie… Ellie has changed a lot of relationships, not just hers and Oliver's, but his with his mother. There's a newfound understanding between them and a measure of wary respect that Felicity's pretty certain has never been there before.

Moira purses her lips, glancing down at her phone. A sad, heavy look suddenly makes her seem years older, and for an instant, Felicity wonders what message she's gotten, until she realizes the screen is blank. It's not about what someone's said to her. That look of total despair is about what someone hasn't said.

"You still haven't heard from her?" Oliver ventures. The cautiously hopeful tone in his voice physically pains Felicity because she already knows the answer, and so does he. He just wishes he didn't.

Moira's stoic mask slips back in place as she puts her phone away with a simple, "No."

"I thought maybe after the press conference..." Oliver notes, voice drifting off a little toward the end.

"As did I," Moira confirms. "But your sister inherited my stubbornness, I'm afraid. She'll find her way home. In her own time. Until then we need to respect her need for space."

Oliver doesn't agree. Felicity can see this instantly. She watches as his throat works, adam's apple bobbing as he swallows hard, the muscles in his chiseled jaw visibly tightening. There's nothing she can say to make this better for him. All she can do is lend her silent support. So she does, letting her hand settle on his bicep, squeezing gently. It earns her a softer look, pulling him back to the present and he pushes aside his concerns for his sister for the moment.

"Come on," Oliver says, his hand finding the curve of Felicity's elbow. "Let's go meet your mom and sort this out."

Right.

Felicity makes a noise somewhere between a groan and a whine that's the opposite of flattering, prompting an amused smile from Oliver.

"I think I'll just wait for my dad," Laurel says, pointing awkwardly at the driveway. "I'll be at the gate."

"Okay," Oliver agrees, barely sparing her a glance where she walks away.

It's pretty amazing how much of an afterthought she seems to be to Oliver now, considering what Felicity had thought about them barely a few days ago. His words from yesterday morning come back to her. She'd believed him then, because she knew he was telling her the truth as he believed it, but seeing their interaction now gives Felicity a whole new way to define them.

They are truly and completely done, a footnote in his past.

It actually makes Felicity wonder for a second what has made the other woman offer her support, but she's also not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. The press conference wouldn't have gone off nearly as well without her help. Who knew she'd one day need someone with so much expertise in family law?

"Mom?" Oliver asks, breaking through Felicity's thoughts as he urges her to the front door.

"Yes," Moira says, agreeing to his unspoken question with a nod, sweeping ahead of them with the kind of poise that will probably always have Felicity doing a double-take. Her back is straight, her hair perfectly coiffed, every inch of her put together in a way that seems supernatural. She doesn't even look like she's been in the car - do her clothes not wrinkle? Does she just scare the wrinkles off? Is that a thing? Felicity looks down at her own rumpled dress and tries in vain to brush the fabric so it lies flat, but she obviously doesn't share Moira's superpowers. How much of the rumple is from her emotions or just sitting, Felicity's not sure, but she's decidedly unkempt in comparison.

"I just…" Felicity starts, waving her hand. Oliver snatches it mid-air, giving her a reassuring smile. It doesn't work. "I want to apologize ahead of time for what's about to happen."

"It's your mom, honey," Oliver replies immediately - and wow, him calling her honey is a thing she might never be used to. "She's family. I'm sure it won't be that bad."

Felicity snorts. Oh, he has no idea. She's not sure that she can fully explain her mother - to be honest, she sort of defies description - but Felicity doesn't get the chance to try as the front door suddenly swings open, followed by a shrill shriek that shatters the quiet air.

Never let it be said that Donna Smoak doesn't know how to make an entrance.

Felicity winces, catching sight of an overwhelmed-looking Raisa right behind where Donna waves her hands in the air, bouncing on her five-inch platform neon pink heels that only emphasize the skintight dress she wears. It's never ceased to amaze Felicity how her mother can breathe in those things and she absently wonders if it's possible she'll just pass out and wake up, thinking this was all a dream…

She's not that lucky.

It takes Donna all of five seconds to realize how loud she is before she slaps her hands over her mouth, eyes darting towards a startled Moira.

"Mom…" Felicity breathes, sounding as tired as she already feels. "What are you doing here?"

"Felicity Meghan Smoak!" Donna chastises, her hands slapping her thighs with a loud smack as she closes the distance between them. "Did you really think you could keep this from me?"

"Mom, whatever you think is going on-"

"I know exactly what's going on," Donna says, and Felicity almost believes her because she's staring at her like she does know, but that doesn't stop Felicity from muttering under her breath, "Oh, I can pretty much guarantee that you don't."

And then her mother glances at Oliver.

The change is instantaneous as Donna pauses, doing a rather blatant size-up of him, something that makes Oliver do his own double-take. And he thought he knew what he was walking into… Before Felicity can do or say anything, Donna blushes - of course she blushes - before letting out a breathy little laugh, a manicured hand settling against her own neck.

Her mother… there's no preparing anyone for her mother. Ever.

"Mom, this is Oliver…"

"Queen," she fills in, her grin turning brilliant. "Hello."

"Hi," Oliver replies, barely able to contain a grin - much to Felicity's chagrin - as he holds out his hand. "It's very nice to meet you, Miss Smoak."

"Oh no, please. Donna. Call me Donna."

"Alright. Donna," Oliver says in a way that makes her mother blush even more, quickly followed by a little giggle that grates right against Felicity's nerves.

"Mom."

"Yes?" Donna asks, looking back toward her daughter. "Felicity."

"How did you even get in here?" Felicity asks. Because, really, their security is supposed to be excellent and what good are they if they can't keep out one middle-aged cocktail waitress in five-inch heels? It's not like she'd hopped the fence.

"Raisa let me in, of course," Donna says like it's obvious, seeming wholly affronted that this is even a question. "Well, after security verified who I was, anyhow. I'm your mother, Felicity, despite the fact that you're apparently too busy to call or visit or inform me about anything going on in your life."

Felicity closes her eyes. "Mom, I swear on the soul of the first computer I ever built that this is not whatever you think it is."

"So you aren't dating Oliver Queen?" Donna asks, eyes darting down to their hands where Felicity is holding onto Oliver with a vise-grip. "And you aren't currently raising a three-year-old little girl who looks just like you did when you were a baby?" Dread tightens Felicity's chest. "I dug out your baby book the second I saw those pictures, just so I could bring it with me. I might not have a fancy college degree, but I can still put some things together, honey."

"You brought her baby book?" Oliver asks, looking pleasantly amused rather than absolutely horrified, which he should on her behalf, in Felicity's very important opinion. And the fact that that was what he gleaned from the entire thing is a whole new annoyance level.

"Mom…" Felicity's mouth hangs open, but the words… there are no words. When Donna raises her eyebrows expectantly, a nervous laugh bubbles out of her. "Mom, this isn't…"

"What I believe Felicity means to say, Ms. Smoak, is that the driveway is not the setting for such a delicate conversation," Moira intercedes. Felicity shoots her a desperately grateful look, but Moira's still focused on Donna. "It's a lovely day. Might I suggest we use the sunroom to continue this discussion while Raisa finds a suitable room for your luggage?"

"Oh, that's… no, Mrs. Queen," Donna says, looking off-kilter for the first time in Felicity's memory. "I just came here straight from the airport, I wasn't expecting… I was just going to stay at Felicity's, I couldn't possibly impose…"

"She really can't possibly impose," Felicity says, nodding a little too manically. "I'll get my key for you, mom."

"Nonsense," Moira says, waving off Felicity's objections like they're completely unworthy of consideration. "We have plenty of rooms to spare and there's a great deal to discuss. Besides, we wouldn't want the press hounding your mother on our account." She smiles at Donna, and it appears entirely genuine. "It's safer here."

"But…"

She's not wrong, and Felicity knows this… but Queen matriarch could at least have the decency to have a terrible argument. It feels completely unfair otherwise.

"Come," Moira says with a commanding grace only she can wield, taking Donna by the elbow to guide them toward the house. "Can I get you a drink?"

"I'd love a drink," Felicity whispers, watching as her mother walks into Queen Manor with Moira Queen at her side. How exactly has this became her life? "Or five."

"Later," Oliver promises with a chuckle, pressing a kiss into her hair. "Let's get through this first. It's going to be fine. Your mom is… colorful."

Felicity snorts and looks up at him in disbelief. Yes, her mother is colorful, and that's also kind of the understatement of the year.

"It'll be fine," Oliver repeats, cupping her face with his free hand. "You aren't alone in this. We aren't alone in this. It'll be okay, Felicity. Really."

He sounds so confident and sure, so much so that she actually believes him.

Felicity narrows her eyes playfully, leaning into him as she asks, "Who are you and what have done with my Oliver Queen?"

"I'm still your Oliver," he replies softly, just for her ears. His lips pull up in a growing smile as they stare at each other. "There's just a new light at the end of the tunnel."

Felicity's heart swells with emotion at that - it's her, and Ellie; it's them. She steps closer, lacing her fingers through the hand she's holding while her other slides up his chest. She slips her fingers between the buttons of his shirt until she reaches the collar. Oliver's eyes slip shut for a second, his jaw clenching. In a move that shouldn't affect them as much as it does, Felicity pushes her hand inside the collar of his shirt to cup his neck. When his breathing stutters, her stomach drops. He's so sensitive to her touch.

His calloused thumb strokes her cheek, those hypnotic blue eyes of his pinning her in place. He's definitely not the only one so affected that world around them disappears, leaving just them in their own little bubble.

And because her brain is her brain, she immediately wonders how long it will last. They just can't catch a break…

"We'll be fine," Oliver says, reading her like an open book.

"You sound so sure," Felicity whispers. His eyes drop to her mouth, his hand moving to cup her jaw, his thumb drifting along the bottom edge of her lip. The intensity in his gaze leaves her dizzy, breathless, like the connection between them is an actual tangible thing. Felicity swallows, and his pupils widen with new intent. "Where can I get some of that certainty?"

"Well," he says, his voice low as he meets her eyes again. A warm flush creeps over her chest, crawling up her neck. It definitely doesn't escape her attention that he's just as flushed. "I learned it from you."

Felicity cannot explain why that has her insides positively melting.

"Oh," she manages.

"So…" Oliver leans in even closer, his thumb pressing more fully on her bottom lip now, in a way that makes her eyes flutter shut as she loses herself in that simple sensation.

She's not sure if it's because of what happened last night, or because they faced yet another life or death situation that morning, or what, but the heat that's slowly growing inside her is becoming a little too insistent. As in hard-to-ignore insistent. As in she's completely forgotten about everything else around her except for the way Oliver is touching her in that quiet moment. It's like a tidal wave, rising slowly but with the intensity of the damn sun, and she's suddenly incredibly aware of every inch of him pressed against her.

Oliver's forehead brushes against hers as he whispers, "Maybe we'll have to learn it together."

Oh, he is so not talking about whatever the hell they were talking about.

"That sounds… good," Felicity breathes, tilting her face to his, for at least one kiss…

"Ahem."

Reality comes crashing back and they jump, both of them stepping apart, their other hands still laced together as they look toward the noise.

Moira and Donna stand with identical disbelieving looks on their faces in the doorway to the house. Felicity's sure they weren't doing anything that bad, but the way her mother is looking at her, she might as well have been. She blushes - which must be quite the sight since she was already flushed to begin with - and smiles tightly as she says, "Hi," in an abnormally high voice.

Oliver squeezes her hand.

"If we might have a moment of your time?" Moira asks, completely failing at keeping a note of amusement out of her voice.

The blush works its way down Felicity's neck and she bites her lip with a nod, looking down at her feet. She steps closer to Oliver who wraps his arm around her waist and both of them move to join their mothers for the most surreal conversation in history.

"Raisa," Moira says. "You'll have someone see to Ms. Smoak's bags, won't you?"

"Of course, Mrs. Queen," Raisa nods. As Felicity and Oliver pass, she sends them a wink that makes Oliver duck his head with a chuckle.

"It's Donna, please," Felicity hears her mother say.

"And you must call me Moira, of course," Oliver's mother replies, leaning in conspiratorially… which takes on a whole new meaning considering it's Moira Queen, actual monarch reigning over conspirators.

The simple exchange only serves to remind Felicity of what they're walking into while simultaneously intensifying her desire to just melt into the pavement. Oh god, she so doesn't want to do this. She can't do this. A heady rush of fight-or-flight surges through her and she almost stops right there, almost grabs Oliver and makes a run for it.

Oliver is so in tune with her, though, so very keenly aware - as if he's keyed right into her every emotion - that he strokes his thumb against her side and makes a quiet hushing noise designed specifically to calm her nerves. It shouldn't work, because it didn't work a second ago, but now… now he's Oliver - her Oliver - and his reassurance works its way through her. Her muscles slowly uncoil, her lungs loosening, letting her take an unhindered breath.

He said things will be fine. And she believes him.

"If you're hungry, I would be happy to have Raisa prepare a light snack," Moira offers, leading Donna through the house to a sitting room Felicity hasn't seen before.

Queen Manor has more rooms than Felicity has ever bothered to take note of. It's an endless maze of hallways with rich displays of… well, the fact that the inhabitants are rich, frankly. It's never done much to impress Felicity, but her mother is suitably distracted by the display of wealth as they make their way through the house.

It's only at her mother's near stumble as she recognizes a Renior in the hall that Felicity realizes Moira picked the sunroom for a very specific reason. It will never cease to amaze Felicity just how conniving she is, how every single move is calculated to the goal she wants. She uses every means she has at her disposal, and money is just one of the many tools at her fingertips. It's amazing. And just as frightening as the first time Felicity realized it.

Moira opens the doors to the sunroom. It has a spectacular view of the entire backyard, including the tree that houses Ellie's fairy castle. It's far in the distance, but Felicity still spots Diggle where he stands at the base, looking up - he's broader than Oliver, Felicity realizes; he probably took one look at the entrance and volunteered to stay on the ground. Felicity knows when Oliver catches a glimpse as well because his shoulders loosen some.

"You don't strike me as the whiskey type, Donna," Moira says with a smile. "A mimosa maybe? Or a nice riesling?"

For a split second, it all works. Donna Smoak is completely taken in by her surroundings. But she's a Vegas girl at heart and Felicity can see the moment she shrugs it all off and refocuses herself.

"No, thank you," Donna replies. "I think I'd prefer a clear head for this."

At that, her mother turns to stare down her daughter, leaving Moira both surprised and maybe even a little impressed. It's obvious the Queen matriarch had underestimated her mother, which is easy to do. Donna Smoak projects a certain image, but she's so much more than that.

"You want to tell me why you thought you needed to keep my granddaughter from me?" Donna asks, her tone leaving no room for argument. Felicity moves to respond, but Donna cuts her off, leaving Felicity feeling like she's fifteen again. "You don't have any troubled relatives who can't care for their child, Felicity. Don't even try to feed me the line you fed the press."

"Uh…"

"Is she…" Donna steps closer, her voice lowering as she asks, "Is she Cooper's daughter, baby?"

"What?" Felicity asks, barely feeling Oliver stiffen slightly next to her as her heart plummets at the mention of Coop.

"Is that why you didn't tell me?" Donna continues, emotion coloring her tone as she follows that ludicrous train of thought. "Did you think I'd judge you? That I wouldn't accept her?"

"God, no, Mom," Felicity chokes out because, wow, that was not a question she'd been prepared for. At all. "Just… no."

Oliver's grip hasn't lessened any as he asks, "Who's Cooper?"

"He's… that's…" Felicity tenses, huffing in annoyance when the words don't come easily. They never do when it comes to that part of her history. There's too many raw nerves, too much guilt for his death that sits on her shoulders, that will always sit on her shoulders. "It's ancient history."

"That little girl looks about four," Donna notes, her eyes pinning Felicity in place. "Cooper died almost five years ago. You can see why I'd ask if Lily is his."

"Ellie," Felicity corrects, because that's by far the easiest part of any of this to address.

Donna blinks. "What?"

"Her name is Ellie… Elizabeth Dearden Queen. We lied to the press, you're right," Felicity admits. She takes a steadying breath, steeling herself for the conversation to come. "And Mom, I'll tell you everything. I promise. But I think you're going to want to sit down first. Please."

It's probably the 'please' that does it. Donna reluctantly takes a seat on a large sofa, looking as out-of-place in her cocktail dress as Felicity can imagine. The impression is only heightened when Moira sits regally beside her. It's a study in contrast, watching their mothers.

"Mom, this is going to sound crazy," Felicity starts as Oliver pulls her over to the loveseat across from them, tugging her down to sit next to him. The instant they're settled, Felicity grabs his hand again, holding it between both of hers. She's one-hundred percent sure she wouldn't have been able to do this without him there, because what she's about to tell her… it's… Felicity shakes her head, sounding increasingly panicked as she says, "It is crazy, actually, and you're never going to believe me. Oliver, how the hell do we-"

"She's from the future," Oliver says, cutting her off.

Felicity's incredulous gaze snaps to Oliver before instantly snapping back to her mother. Donna's eyes go wide, her jaw dropping as she looks at Oliver, then Felicity, and finally Moira, like she's waiting for someone to laugh or confess it's a joke.

When none of them do, something in her closes off a bit and she sits back, withdrawing slightly. That has Felicity sitting forward, wanting to reach out and grab her mother's hand, to anchor her.

"It's true," Felicity adds, begging with her eyes for Donna to believe her. "I know it sounds nuts, like commit-these-people level of nuts, but I swear, Mom… I swear it's true."

"Felicity…" her mother starts with a warning tone and a shake of her head.

"The particle accelerator accident in Central City," Felicity blurts.

Donna starts at the non-sequitur. "What about it?"

"Our friend Barry got hit by lightning during it," Felicity tells her, trying very hard not to focus on the fact that she's outing a friend as a superhero before he's even aware of his powers. One thing at a time. "He's in a coma right now, but he's going to wake up able to run really, really fast. Fast enough to travel through time."

Absolutely none of her mother's skepticism dissipates at that as Donna just stares at her. Which, really, is pretty understandable when she thinks about the situation from a logical standpoint.

"Let's pretend, for a moment," Donna says, waving her hands, "that I believe any of this… Doctor How stuff you're throwing at me…"

"'Who,' Mom," Felicity says. "It's Doctor Who."

Really, you'd think she could get that part right considering how many episodes she watched with her.

"Whatever," Donna replies, waving a hand like she's swatting away the words. "Why in the world would he bring her here? Why now?"

"Because she's not safe in her own time," Oliver says. "Barry isn't the only one who can travel through time and there's someone after her. We don't know why he's after her, but our future selves thought she was safest by sending her back in time to stay with us now."

"Why would someone be after her?" Donna asks, her eyebrows rising as she looks at Moira before looking at them. "A toddler?"

And that… that is something they don't have an answer for, at least one they've discussed even though they've surely both thought about it. Oliver and Felicity look at each other, and when she sees the look in his eyes, she shakes her head.

"Oliver…"

"It's probably because I'm The Arrow," he says.

Felicity's sure her mother's eyes bug out at that - hers might've too because Oliver openly admitting the fact that he's the Starling City vigilante as if it's no big deal is actually a really big deal - but all her attention is on him for a different reason. It's like saying the words out loud suddenly solidifies how heavy they are and she can actually see the added weight on his shoulders.

"We don't know that that's why," Felicity says, twining their fingers together on his thigh as she touches his cheek with her other hand, urging him to look at her.

"You can't tell me that what we do isn't part of why Zoom's after her, Felicity," Oliver replies. For a blip of a moment, Felicity thinks he's going to turn in on himself, like he's always done, but he doesn't. It's a testament to how much change he's undergone in the last few days when he turns to her. "If we didn't… I can't help but think that… Most three-year-olds don't have to worry about time-travelling supervillains trying to kill them, and if we weren't-"

"If we weren't what?" Felicity demands, cutting him off. "If we weren't ourselves? If we didn't fight to make this city safer, to make it a better place, he might not be after her? Don't go down that road, Oliver." He closes his eyes, moving to look away but she doesn't let him, because that's not why. "She's who she is because we're who we are. And I will never regret working to make this city a better place for her and every other person who lives here." Felicity stares at him, urging him to understand what she's saying. "You shouldn't either."

"I… I know," Oliver whispers. "I know that, I just…" He leans into her, his free hand gripping her knee as he squeezes her other hand tighter. "I just want her to be safe. And the thought that this might be because of me…"

"We don't know that," Felicity repeats. "And even if we did, it doesn't matter. Because I know - despite my own little mini-freakouts…" That earns her a breathy chuckle, both serving to lighten the mood and to remind him that she herself said the same thing how many times now? And how many times was it him reassuring her? "I know that we can keep her and the city safe."

There's an amazing thing that happens whenever they're so completely in-sync like they are right now. It's almost a communion, and she feels it on such a basic level. There's such a unity of purpose between them, not just with Ellie, but with their shared mission to save Starling City.

She knows he feels it too, just by the way he looks at her. He'd asked her to believe him earlier when he said things would be fine, and now she's asking him to trust her and believe her. And he does.

"You're…" Donna starts, reminding Felicity like a slap to the face that they aren't alone. "You're The Arrow?" Her eyes dart to Felicity, whose own widen when she realizes just what they've admitted in front of her. "And Felicity, you help him?"

A swarm of butterflies hit her gut and she nods, a little hesitantly. She's completely devoted to their mission, she doesn't regret a single second of it, but she's still a daughter, and some part of her finds itself wanting her mother's approval. Felicity holds her breath, waiting for whatever judgment her mother is about to dispense.

"Baby, that's…" Donna starts, looking toward Moira with a bodily nervousness, only to be greeted with a sad smile.

"Selfless," Moira supplies. "And more than a bit terrifying to her mother, no doubt."

"It's also dangerous," Donna adds firmly.

"There is no one in the world who can understand that better than I can," Moira replies. "And I say that as a woman who has unknowingly shot her own child."

Donna's eyes widen and she looks back to Oliver. He nods, actually looking sheepish, confirming his mother's story.

Oliver looks at Felicity. "But if you hadn't, Felicity might not have found out who I was." He smiles at Moira. "I think we can let that one go."

Felicity snorts, raising an eyebrow. "Please. You 'ran out of sports bottles?' I knew you were up to something way before that. Trust me, I would've figured it out."

Oliver laughs. "Yeah, you probably would have. But I'm glad you joined the team when you did. I needed you, even if I didn't know it back then."

She bites her lip to keep her pleased grin from taking over, but even that can't stop it. It still floors her that he says things like this to her, even more that he means them. Even with all the danger they face, everything that's happened still feels more like a dream than reality. It's only been a few days, but every time she wakes up she's a bit surprised that she's still here, that this is still her life. And, oh, she is so grateful for it.

"Well, as long as you know it now," Felicity replies, her cheeks flushing.

"I definitely know it," he says. He leans forward, kissing her temple with a quiet affection that makes her feel so incredibly solid and safe that it's astonishing.

When Felicity looks up, catching her mother's eye, she blushes even more, realizing both of their mothers are watching them. Moira has a pleased smile on her face, a motherly pride that only comes from seeing her child in a place she wholly approves of, while Donna looks contemplative, like she's seeing a whole new side of Felicity that she's never had the pleasure of viewing before. Which, considering this is a new side for Felicity too, makes sense.

"Where is she?" Donna asks after a couple of beats.

"Where's who?" Felicity asks.

Exasperation colors her face as she clarifies, "Ellie."

"Oh. Right. She's, uh…" Felicity waves towards the backyard, where Diggle has disappeared. Her heart short-circuits before she thinks she sees his jeans near the entrance of the treehouse. The idea that Ellie probably talked him into going in as much as he could is painfully adorable. "She's with some bodyguards playing in her treehouse. Or castle, as she'd correct me." Felicity doesn't miss Oliver's amused smile. "Does that mean you believe us?"

That seems amazing, like far too much to ask for. But her mother has surprised her in the past and she's brave enough to hope for it this time, too.

Donna flips her hair over her shoulder before leaning forward. "Do you remember my friend the palm reader, baby?"

"Madame Serena?" Felicity questions, raising an eyebrow.

"She did a reading on you when you weren't even as old as Ellie."

Felicity blinks. "She did what now?"

Her mother ignores her. "And do you know what she said? She said you were destined for great things. But she also said that parts of your future were unwritten, that you had control. I've heard Serena do a lot of readings over the years, but I've never heard her tell someone that." She smiles, her eyes darting between her and Oliver. "Maybe this is why."

Felicity puts approximately as much stock in Madam Serena's palm readings as she does in Norton Anti-Virus' ability to protect her computer - which is to say that each of them are occasionally successful at their job entirely by accident - but it serves its purposes. Her mother believes them, and if it's because of a Vegas fortuneteller with a fake accent, then Felicity is going to choose to be very, very grateful to that woman.

"Now…" Donna says with a new flourish. "If it's alright with you, I'd like to meet my granddaughter."

Oliver's trust in Digg and Sara is unwavering. There are no two people in the world he could possibly put his faith in more when it comes to protecting someone, especially his own child. Despite that, he's still intensely relieved when he sends Digg a text message asking them to come back to the house and gets an immediate response. Seeing Diggle outside one second and the next he's gone had jolted him as much as it had Felicity.

"They'll be here in a few minutes," Oliver advises, looking up from his phone. He smiles. "She's telling her fairy subjects a story for their naptime."

"So no problems?" Felicity immediately asks. "I mean, obviously there's no problems or you wouldn't have led with fairy people naptime, but that doesn't mean I don't need to hear it."

He knows exactly how she feels. The tone of his text must have given away some of his anxiety about Ellie's safety, because Diggle had informed him there was nothing more dangerous than a potential splinter and he needed to take a deep breath and calm the hell down.

He looks forward to shoving those words back at Digg in a year or so.

Parenthood isn't anything like he might have imagined it would be. It's better and more terrifying than his mind had been able to envision. He looks at Ellie and he knows why his own father shot himself in the head instead of letting them both die of thirst. He looks at her and he gets why his mother went along with a plan to kill thousands rather than risk her own family. It's like watching the best part of himself walk around, vulnerable to all the dangers this world has to offer. Ellie is precious and perfect and so very innocent and he wants nothing more than to keep her happy and safe.

"Oliver," Felicity prods, anxiety shading her voice.

"Sorry. She's fine," Oliver replies. He squeezes her hand reassuringly. "She's having fun."

Felicity lets out an enormous sigh, followed by a breathy, "Good," and he actually feels a little guilty for taking so long to reply. He picks up their joined hands, kissing the inside of her wrist as a silent apology.

"So, she…" Donna starts, seeming almost self-conscious as her eyes dart between them. "She likes fairies?"

"Yeah, she does," Felicity agrees, her voice softer than before. Her entire demeanor is soft as she looks at her mother. "Fairies and castles and strawberries and a cartoon raccoon named Rascal. She's… she's perfect. And she adores you."

Tears fill Donna's eyes as she nods in quick succession, pressing her fingers to her mouth.

A lot of Felicity and her mother's relationship remains a mystery to Oliver. Felicity's never really talked about her, and it's clear that they don't talk much at all. It's also very clear how much Felicity means to her mother, and how much Ellie - or the idea of Ellie, anyhow - means to her as well.

"So she knows me?" Donna asks, emotion clouding the words, her voice muffled through her fingers.

"Of course she knows you, Mom," Felicity replies. Her brow furrows in confusion, like the thought hadn't even occurred to her. She's too close to the situation to see it. "You're her grandmother. Why wouldn't she know you?"

Donna lets out a little sob at that, blinking hard.

"Honey, it's just… sometimes it seems like I'm not really a part of your life," she confesses. "I guess it's just good to know that it won't always be that way."

"Oh. Mom…" Felicity shifts uneasily, ducking her head. "It's not… I don't mean to shut you out. It's just… I'm not…"

"I get it, baby," Donna says. She smiles with a little shrug. "I don't understand your work. I never have. And your private life has always been… well, private." She levels Felicity with a knowing look. "You weren't ever going to tell me about helping The Arrow, were you?"

Felicity pauses, looking like she wants to lie before changing her mind. "No. I wasn't."

"You live this… this big life," Donna continues. "And I don't really get to be a part of it. But, baby, I've always been proud of you, even when I'm just on the outside looking in. You're my only child, Felicity. I guess it's just nice to know that someday we find something we can relate about, a way for me to fit into your life."

Felicity tenses at her mother's words. It's obvious she never quite understood how much the distance between them had affected her mother. From the little he's heard about it, Oliver thinks Felicity assumed the distance went both ways. Her brow furrows, her lips turning down in a small frown.

"You're my mother," Felicity says, as if that explains everything she's thinking all on its own. "You'll always be a part of my life. You raised me almost entirely on your own. I wouldn't be half the person I am now if it wasn't for you."

More tears fill Donna's eyes at that and she reaches across the open space between the loveseats, but whatever she's about to reply with is silenced by the sound of Ellie's delighted laugh. They all instantly look towards the noise, like the little girl is gravity.

The sight that greets Oliver on the back lawn is nearly enough to take his breath away.

Ellie's perched on Diggle's shoulders, giggling happily, her little golden curls bouncing with each of Digg's lurching steps. The sun catches the various hues in her long strands, emphasizing the little white wildflowers tucked behind her ear. Her happiness is clearly infectious as Diggle chuckles to himself while Sara - two feet to the side, wearing Ellie's crown - grins broadly as she looks up at the little girl with a kind of peace on her face that Oliver hasn't seen since before Lian Yu. Ellie has such a tremendous effect on all of them, the best kind of effect.

"Oh, Felicity," Donna breathes, scooting to the edge of the sofa. She reaches across and grips her daughter's hand. "Oh, baby, she's beautiful."

"Yeah," Felicity replies with obvious pride. Oliver sees her grip her mother's hand tighter, both their eyes on their daughter, and it makes Oliver smile as he watches some kind of newfound bond growing between the two women right before his eyes. "She's pretty perfect."

There's absolutely no question of when Ellie spots them through the open windows. Her jaw drops in excitement right before she starts waving frantically, a tremendous toothy grin overtaking her whole face.

"Gramma! Uncle Digg, I want down, it's my Gramma!"

She's a wiggly little thing in her eagerness and if Diggle had less honed reflexes, she might have right fallen off his shoulders. But it's Digg and he's already well attuned to her movements, his hands moving to help ease her off her perch. She's all grins as he lowers her to the ground, and the instant her feet touch the grass, she's running for the door.

Ellie barrels into the room, heedless of absolutely anything else around her as she flings herself at Felicity's mother without pause. It's only the practiced move of a mother that has Donna catching her at the very right moment, pulling her up into her lap.

"Hi, Gramma!" the little girl exclaims.

The tears are back as Donna grins down at her, a shaky hand ghosting over Ellie's hair as she whispers, "Hi there."

If there had been any part of Donna Smoak that doubted their story, it most certainly would have been swayed by Ellie as she settles herself happily on her grandmother's lap and stares at her with bright, happy eyes. The little girl's honest, easy affection is a powerful thing and Donna is instantly overwhelmed by it, in the best way possible.

"I like your dress," Ellie says. "Do you like mine? My other Gramma got it for me. Is Pop-Pop here? Did you bring candy? Can I have some? Can we paint my nails?"

She's buzzing with excitement, the likes of which Oliver hasn't seen outside the influence of apple juice so far. It seems her grandmother induces much the same effect. Oliver finds himself making a mental note of that without even having to think about it.

"Yours are so pretty, can we do mine like yours? Did you bring the glittery kind? That's my favorite!"

"Oh my, let's hold on a minute, sweetheart," Donna says. She pulls back slightly so she can get a good look at the toddler cuddled up on her lap. "Oh, look at you, beautiful girl. It is… so very good to see you."

Ellie positively beams at her grandmother's attention. "You too! It's been forever since I saw you, Gramma. Days even. I missed you this much." She spreads her hands out as wide as they'll go, nodding in great seriousness as she does so.

Oliver almost feels uncomfortable watching as Donna's eyes water, her lower lip trembling before she draws Ellie into her arms, hugging her tightly. It's a deeply personal moment, a moment shared only between a grandmother and grandchild, and it's even more profound because it's so apparent that Donna and Ellie spend a lot of time together in the future.

"Well, I'm here now, little one," Donna assures her, pressing her cheek to the top of Ellie's head, her eyes slipping shut as she savors the moment.

He catches Felicity reaching up to wipe her cheek from the corner of his eye and he glances over. Her eyes are just as watery when she meets his gaze, and they share a smile.

Giving Donna a moment with Ellie, Oliver looks at Sara and Diggle. "Everything went okay?"

"It went fine," Sara says, pointing toward the tiara on her head. She dips into an amused curtsy. "I was crowned Vice President."

"I… don't think that's how that works," Felicity replies.

"Well, it does in fairy kingdom," Sara advises, pulling the tiara off of her head. She sets it down on the arm of the sofa, Ellie and Donna's whispers rising in the background as she looks at him. "Ollie, you got a minute? I wanted to run something past you."

"Now?" he asks.

It's not even that the police could arrive at any moment, or that Zoom is an ever-present threat, or that they have no idea what Isabel and Blood are planning, all on top of just having Felicity's mother thrown in the mix. It's also that he doesn't want to leave this moment.

"Yeah, Ollie," Sara says with a nod. "Now."

"Okay," Oliver replies, but he still doesn't move. "Digg, can you-"

"You don't even have to ask, man," Diggle interrupts, leaning back against the wall. "I got your back and theirs. You know that."

He gives the other man a grateful smile, one which Diggle replies to with a little shake of his head, both of them knowing he just needs to hear the words. Oliver turns to Felicity, squeezing her hand as he leans in to kiss her briefly. "Be back in a few minutes."

"Okay," she agrees easily as he stands, reluctantly releasing her hand.

Even with the sight of Ellie cuddling up with Donna on the sofa opposite her, Oliver can feel Felicity's eyes follow him until he's out of the room. From the moment he's out the door, every part of him itches to go back.

Sara doesn't give him a second to linger though, already moving towards his mother's office.

As she shuts the door, Oliver asks, "What's up?"

She doesn't answer right away, something that makes his stomach sink, and when she finally turns to face him, the grave look on her face tells him whatever she's about to broach is something he isn't going to like.

A nervous edge slices through him and Oliver widens his stance, bracing himself, as he asks, "What is it?"

"Something occurred to me while we were outside," Sara says, her voice a complete one-eighty from the lightness she'd worn so effortlessly just a moment ago around Ellie.

Oliver frowns. "What?"

"Ellie's not born yet," Sara says slowly, giving him a heavy look that makes absolutely no sense in Oliver's head because obviously Ellie isn't born yet. That's not news and he doesn't understand why it necessitates a private conversation.

"Yeah…" he confirms, waiting for her to say more.

"Ollie…" Sara's shoulders fall in exasperation. "If Zoom is trying to get to Ellie, to destroy her, then going after her parents before she's ever born is every bit as effective."

Everything inside him freezes. That hadn't even occurred to him. Not once. Ice water floods his veins at the implication of what she's saying, what she's inferring. He can only stare at her, not breathing, his hands curling into fists so tight his nails bite into his palms.

"You can protect yourself," Sara continues, as if she isn't saying something that's terrifying him on an entirely primal level. "At least better than they can. But Felicity… Ellie isn't the only one in danger. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of that. Felicity can't be out of our sight either, not until this is over. Maybe not even then."

It makes sense - of course they're in danger; of course Felicity's in danger.

Oliver can't do anything as he tries to wrap his mind around that, around the fact that he hadn't thought about it, that Zoom could have appeared at any time, anywhere, with either of them. That it could have happened at any point already, that it could happen sometime in the future - or the past - is paralyzing.

No. No, he just got everything - everything - he's ever wanted, all the things he was too afraid to want, to need, to rely on, and just as quickly, there's someone trying to take them away. No. No, he can't lose either of them. He refuses to.

And he won't.

"Thank you," Oliver chokes out - it's all he can manage just then - as he reaches for the doorknob, the need to see his family burning even stronger than it already was.

Sara touches his arm. "We'll get through this, Ollie. It'll be okay."

"You just pointed out to me that my future wife and child have targets on their backs," he snaps, whirling back to face her. The only surprise she shows at his sudden move is her eyebrows shooting up, and she doesn't move an inch as he advances on her. "How exactly is that okay?"

"Because they've got us," Sara replies with just as much vehemence, not backing down for an instant. "Because they've got you. That's what makes it okay. So don't take my head off just because I pointed out that you need to keep your eyes open. I did that for you and for her because, believe it or not, you aren't the only one who cares about Felicity, Oliver."

He grits his teeth at that, setting his jaw, not liking her tone, because he knows she's right. He knows his anger toward her is completely unearned, but Zoom isn't here and there's no good target for him to aim his anxiety at.

Just the thought… Fear and anger burn through him like acid. There really is something to the idea of ignorance is bliss, because now this is all he's going to be thinking about. Every time he looks at Felicity, he'll wonder if it's the last time. And god, when he looks at Ellie…

"Hey," Sara says, pulling him back. "I know you're scared, and I get it. You and me? People like us don't get a 'happily ever after.' It's a fantasy that's always out of reach. But, Ollie… you've got it, and you can see it right in front of you and you're terrified that someone might take it away. I get that, and it's why I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn't go anywhere. Okay?"

He can only stare at her, and she sees the answer even though he can't say it.

"But just because I'm doing that doesn't mean you get to take all this out on me." Sara raises an eyebrow, almost like she's waiting for him to challenge her on that. "Got it?"

If this had been any other situation, he might have laughed a little, because he can't believe that she is his friend, that he gets to have her by his side, helping him. But it's this situation and Oliver doesn't trust his voice just yet.

He nods sharply instead.

Sara smirks, raising an eyebrow. "I'm gonna pretend that was an apology for biting my head off just now because that's the closest I'm gonna get, isn't it?"

Oliver has the grace to flinch. He manages a barely audible, "Sorry," even though it feels like sandpaper in his throat.

"Now was that so hard?" she asks, looking more amused than is warranted at the moment.

"Don't push it," he grits out, sounding very much like he's using his voice modulator.

Sara rolls her eyes at him, shaking her head before nodding to the door, a clear indication for them to get back to the others. He's definitely in line with that thinking. The urge to get back to his family itches under his skin. He wants nothing more than to wrap them both up in his arms and lock the world outside away forever.

Unfortunately that has to wait for a bit though, because the second he opens the office door, he hears the front door open.

Quentin Lance's distinctive voice echoes down the hall.

"Dunno how you got messed up in all this, Laurel," he grumbles. "Damned Queen family drama. You got more sense than to stick your neck out for him."

"This isn't about Oliver," Laurel argues back. "This is about a three-year-old little girl who needs my help. I'm not going to turn my back on a kid in need, dad."

"An' the best thing for her is Queen? What's the alternative?" Lance snarks, making Oliver wince. He's well aware of the other man's opinion of him, but he doesn't need to hear that voiced in reference to Ellie.

"I think he'll surprise you with her," Laurel says, her voice hardening as she comes to their defense. "And so will Felicity."

"The assistant?" Lance scoffs. "I know her. She's a good kid, but I'm not sure she's exactly in the position to play mommy at the moment. She's got… other loyalties."

The Arrow, he means The Arrow.

Damn it, Oliver forgot that Lance was aware of that association.

The man in question rounds the corner in front of them, Laurel at his side. Oliver doesn't miss the sour look that twists Lance's face when he spots him, especially when he sees Sara.

"Officer Lance," Oliver says in greeting. "I'd heard you'd be coming by with some questions."

"Queen," the policeman greets gruffly before narrowing his eyes at Sara. "Why's it both my daughters always seem to be wherever you are?"

Oliver presses his lips into a thin line as Sara groans, "Dad."

"No, really," Lance reasserts, folding his arms. "I wanna know what it is that gets both my girls messed up in whatever his drama is."

"Must be how well they were raised," Oliver replies before he can think twice. He can't help himself. He just can't help himself. Normally he's able to bite his tongue, to keep quiet because some part of him will always accept the blame the older man places at his feet, no matter what, but not today, not now. Something about the way Lance is talking about him sets him on edge, throwing him back in time, and suddenly he's eighteen and stupid all over again.

"What'd you say?" Lance asks, stepping up and Oliver finds himself moving forward too, a white noise filling his ears. But before anything can happen, Laurel tugs her father back just as Sara's hand appears on Oliver's chest, pushing him backwards.

"Don't be a dumbass, Ollie," Sara says. "That's not who you are."

Whatever Laurel's saying to her dad, he doesn't hear as Sara's words sink in.

Oliver closes his eyes, stepping back. The sudden urge to punch the hell out of something has nothing to do with Lance, he knows that logically, but everything to do with Zoom and the growing threat he represents against his family. Just because Lance has the ability to tap into the worst of him doesn't mean he needs to rise to the occasion - he has people in his life who are owed a whole lot more than that.

But damn it, he wants to hit something and the accusation in Lance's eyes isn't helping anything.

"I'm good," Lance snaps at Laurel, shrugging off her hand. He adjusts his shirt, cracking his neck a bit before looking back to Oliver. "I'm here in an official capacity."

"Ollie…" Sara says, his name heavy with warning that states she definitely doesn't trust his pending response.

"You are very welcome in that capacity," Oliver grits out with a forced smile. His voice is almost mechanical as he continues. "Someone bugged my mother's house. We haven't touched the cameras, in case there are fingerprints on them. Felicity found them because our internet connection was slow. They're transmitting using our wifi."

"I'm gonna need to talk to her," Lance says, shifting into a more professional mode. "Where's she at?"

An excited noise from down the hall stops Oliver from responding, and it simultaneously sends a bolt of shocked dread and gratitude through him because he needs to see Felicity before anything else happens.

But then Oliver realizes what that excited noise is, and it completely throws him. There's a lot he's prepared for - Isabel, Zoom, a tear in the timestream, a blur of red in the form of Barry - but this… Yeah, he's not prepared.

"Pop-Pop!"

Ellie's a blur as she rushes down the hall, throwing herself at Lance's leg, much to his confusion, Oliver's horror, Laurel's disbelief and Sara's blatant amusement.

"Oh. My. God," Felicity says from the end of the hall, both of their mothers closing in behind her. Felicity's eyes are wide, her jaw slack as Ellie's words about 'Pop-Pop' that morning suddenly make so much more sense. The kind of sense that doesn't make any sense. "Oh my God. What… I just… That can't possibly…" She shakes her head, speechless. She whirls to face her mother, who looks completely unaware of what's going on, before looking back at Ellie, and then Oliver, and then back to Ellie. "Can somebody pinch me, please?"

Sara snorts, a grin pulling at her lips. "Go on, Ollie," she says, elbowing him. "She asked nicely and everything."

Exasperation shoves its way through him and Oliver shoots his ex-girlfriend a withering look because now is really not the time. It only seems to amuse her even more as she laughs outright.

"Did you bring candy?" Ellie asks, tugging on Lance's pant leg, staring up at him with wide, adoring eyes. "I didn't know you were here. Wanna see my crown? It's very pretty. It's an heirloom." She drags the word out, spending too much time on the 'm' sound. "Daddy says so, cause it was Aunt Thea's when she was my age. Isn't that cool, Pop-Pop?"

"What the hell's a Pop-Pop?" Lance asks in confusion as Donna suddenly makes a little squeal down the hall. Oliver looks over in time to see her grip her daughter's shoulder too tightly, eliciting an, "Ow, Mom! Claws. God, your nails!"

"I do love a man in uniform," Donna whispers, or in what she thinks is a whisper. Oliver hopes Lance is deafer than he looks, but he isn't sure.

"Oh my god, Mom," Felicity groans

"Well, he's very handsome, Felicity." She blinks coquettishly in their direction. "Don't you think he's handsome?"

"I can honestly say that is a thought I've never had," Felicity deadpans, looking like she'd rather be anywhere else.

"Really," Lance says in blatant confusion. "What's a Pop-Pop?"

Both Donna and Felicity look up with matching deer-caught-in-headlights looks on their faces. If there was one less person there, Oliver would find that ridiculously cute, but now's not the time. Now's not the time for many things.

"You, uh… you look like her grandfather," Oliver says, and it sounds weak and pathetic, but he doesn't care. He just needs Ellie out of there. He goes to them and leans down to his daughter's level, gripping her arm to peel her off Lance. "Lily, honey, can you go with Sara? There's strawberry ice cream in the freezer. She's going to get you a bowl, okay?"

"Really?" Ellie asks, the use of the wrong name going right over her head as her eyes go wide. "I can have ice cream, Daddy?"

"Absolutely," he confirms, tapping her on the tip of her nose, making her giggle. "Just not so much you have a tummyache, okay? And stay with Sara."

"And me," Diggle announces, stepping forward. "I don't want to miss the ice cream."

His words are light but the look on his face isn't as he offers Oliver a heavy look, his gaze slipping briefly to Felicity and back as he raises his eyebrows in an unspoken statement.

Something sinks in Oliver's gut at that look. Digg and Sara are on the same page about the potential danger to Felicity. He's sure of it. It's something they talked about, probably in hushed, half-coded words tucked away in Ellie's fairy castle. This look, though… this is Digg telling him 'I've got Ellie. You keep both eyes on Felicity' and he knows it. Sara's words from earlier ring in his ears - "You aren't the only one who cares about Felicity, Oliver." The truth of that is undeniable and it simultaneously makes the danger to her all the more real and eases his worries some.

There is nothing Digg will not do for Felicity. Nothing.

"Okay!" Ellie says, dragging Oliver back to the present before she grabs Sara's hand and makes insistent, grabby fingers in Digg's direction. "Come on, Uncle Digg and Big Sara! Ice cream!"

"You got it, kid," Sara replies, saluting her dad as they pass.

"Kidd-o," Ellie corrects, their voices fading as they make their way toward the kitchen. "Like the captain, remember? Kiddoooooo…"

Lance watches them until they're gone, his face twisted with incredulity. "Really?" He looks at Oliver, and that edge from a second ago is back. "You're playing daddy now?"

That hits Oliver in his gut in a way he's not prepared for, a decisive blow that takes his breath away. He loves Ellie with everything he's made of, but that doesn't change the fact that he's new at this, that she's in constant danger, that he blames himself for it… that he's not entirely sure he's good enough for her.

"You have no idea what you're talking about." The click of Felicity's heels against the hardwood floor cuts through the tension growing between them as she strides forward until she's at Oliver's side, grasping his hand tightly in hers as she glowers at Lance. "That little girl has been through more than you know and she feels safe and loved because Oliver has welcomed her with open arms. She's lucky to have him. I'm lucky to have him."

It's the certainty in her voice more than her words that reassures him. She believes what she's saying with every fiber of her being - he can hear that, he can feel that, and it makes all the difference.

"An' what's she been through, exactly?" Lance asks, eyeing Felicity with complete disbelief. "'Cause while SCPD might show record that you've got a cousin in rehab, this ain't the first time I've looked into you Ms. Smoak, an' no matter what your hobbies are, you can't hack my memory. You don't have any cousins. No aunts or uncles, either. Just yourself an' your mom. So you wanna tell me where that kid came from?"

His words echo against the walls with a finality that leaves zero room for argument and Felicity pales. Even if she'd been prepared to lie to Lance, Oliver knows from experience that there is no way in the world he's going to buy it. Not now.

"You're… remembering wrong," Felicity says, but it's the opposite of convincing as her hand suddenly grips Oliver's so tightly her knuckles are turning white against his.

"I've been a cop a long time, Ms. Smoak," Lance reminds her. "And I've been a father almost as long. I'm pretty damned good at knowing when I'm bein' lied to by now."

This statement is painfully ironic, all things considered, but there's really no time to dwell on that at the moment because the implications of what Lance is saying are huge and terrifying. And he isn't done talking. Lance steps forward, lowering his voice, his eyes darting quickly toward Oliver before looking back at Felicity.

"I think I've got a pretty good idea where she came from," he says, raising his eyebrows meaningfully. "But maybe you an' I should maybe have a word alone about that."

Oliver frowns - what? - turning to Felicity. He can see Felicity's mind working as she tries to sort out what Lance means, and it's clear when she's connected some dots because the look on her face suddenly becomes guarded, but less worried.

He's not sure exactly what to make of that.

"I don't have any secrets from Oliver," Felicity finally replies.

It's a statement that visibly stuns the policeman, who takes a step back and looks at him with wary eyes. Oliver isn't quite sure how to respond to that, but it slowly dawns on him that they're talking - on some level - about The Arrow.

Oh.

"Laurel," Lance says without turning to look at his eldest daughter. "Can you go check on your sister and the kid for me, please?"

"Sure," Laurel replies, but before she moves, her eyes switch to Oliver, the question in them evident. The move makes the muscles in her father's jaw twitch, his displeasure at her seeking his approval incredibly clear. If she notices it, she doesn't mention it. Laurel rests her hand on Lance's shoulder. "Be nice, Dad. You're here because they've been victimized. Remember that."

"Yeah, yeah," Lance says, looking uneasy at being put in his place by his daughter as she turns to leave.

Down the hall, Moira recognizes the police officer's dismissal, even though it was nowhere near directed at her. But then, picking up on social cues has always come as easily to Moira Queen as breathing.

"Donna," Moira says, placing a guiding hand on the other woman's elbow. "Let's get you settled in your room. I believe you said you brought some photos along?"

"Oh, God," Felicity moans, turning her face into Oliver's shoulder as their mothers disappear up the stairs, Donna's answer too far away to hear.

"It's fine," Oliver reminds her, his hand settling between her tense shoulders, his thumb rubbing circles against the knots of her spine. "I'm sure you were an adorable baby and my mother is going to think so, too. I'm pretty sure you can do no wrong in her eyes at this point."

It's shocking because it's true. His mother has gone from completely cold toward her to utterly committed to the idea of this woman one day being her beloved daughter-in-law and mother to her grandchildren.

Now that he thinks about it, that shift in his mother's perspective explains her sudden chilly attitude toward Laurel. He knows he isn't the only one who'd once assumed a future between them was inevitable, and he wonders absently if she doesn't view Laurel as something of a threat. To Felicity. To Ellie's very existence. To her family. It's likely, he realizes with some surprise. There's zero doubt about where his mother's loyalty lies at this point. He should probably clarify with her at some point that she's completely wrong. He's been absurdly clear about what he wants - who he wants - and the future he sees laid out in front of him doesn't feature Laurel at all.

But they have more immediate concerns at the moment.

"No secrets from him?" Lance asks, jutting his thumb in Oliver's direction in a dismissive way that makes Oliver bristle. "Really?"

"I was the Executive Assistant for a CEO of a Fortune 500 company," Felicity points out. "Do you really think I could have helped The Arrow without him knowing?"

Lance snorts, like he isn't willing to buy it just yet as he looks at Oliver with narrowed eyes, like he's trying to make pieces of a puzzle fit together that really don't. "An' you're okay with that?"

"The Arrow tried to stop a terror attack that killed my best friend," Oliver says bluntly, his tone leaving no room for argument. "He tried to stop my mother from becoming a murderer. If he needs help doing things like that, I'm not about to stand in the way."

"Huh." Lance's lengthy scrutiny puts Oliver's teeth on edge, but he doesn't flinch. He can't. There's entirely too much at stake for that. "So you lend out your computer-expert-slash-girlfriend and… what? Toss a million or two at him on the side to fund his little crusade?" Lance asks. "Been wonderin' where he's gettin' the cash to do what he does."

Oliver smiles tightly. "If I do, I'm pretty sure you won't be able to prove it."

That earns him a sharp elbow in the ribs from Felicity. It might not be the brightest thing to say, but he's also right, and they both know it. Felicity's computer skills are as thorough as they are impressive. Between her skillset and his more-than-passing-familiarity with money laundering thanks to his Bratva days, the money trail between Queen family funds and their nighttime activities is probably the best hidden aspect of what they do.

"Nice," Lance says with a derisive twist of his lips. "Fine. Whatever. So you're both on Team Arrow."

Felicity coughs violently at the casual declaration, making Lance's eyebrows shoot right up. Oliver has to resist the urge to grin as he rubs her back soothingly, waiting for her to settle and for some of the excess color to drain from her face.

"We don't actually call ourselves that," Oliver informs Lance. He ignores the incredulous look from Felicity because replaying those words again is considerably more fun than it really ought to be, especially considering the circumstances.

"I don't wanna know," Lance informs him. "Let's get back to me being about the cameras and about Lily, 'cause I think we all know where she came from and it ain't upstate New York."

"Where, uh…" Felicity pats her chest, her voice strained with wariness. "Where exactly do you think she came from?"

"Please," Lance huffs. "I ain't stupid. We've got no open cases involving a kid by her description. She's not in the national database of missing kids an' she's clearly got more than a passing familiarity with you. Her reaction to the lights at the press conference is proof enough she's been through some kinda trauma and you've got my daughter playing bodyguard." He levels her with a no-bullshit look. "That tells me she's in some kinda danger."

Felicity shifts uneasily at the picture he paints of the situation as Oliver's hand stills against her back. His fingers curl into the fabric at the top of her dress like he's gripping onto it for support. He's not entirely sure where Lance is going with this, but he's not comfortable with it in the least.

"She's his, isn't she?" Lance asks after a beat. "The Arrow's?"

That is the very last thing they expected him to say, and that neither of them immediately respond is probably proof enough for Lance. They're both at a loss for words. They hadn't anticipated this, not even a little.

"So I'm right," Lance deduces, shaking his head a little. "She's The Arrow's kid."

"Yes…" Felicity confirms slowly, watching the older man with guarded eyes. "She is."

"Wow," Lance says with a short laugh. "I gotta say, I've got a real hard time picturing him changin' diapers." He shakes his head, his tone almost mocking as he continues, "My sympathies to the first boy who dares to ask her out on a date."

Something about that irks Oliver wildly, but not in the way he might have expected. Yes, he wants to keep her safe - from Zoom, from Slade, from Isabel - but not from the world at large. He wants her to experience life as she grows up, to have all of those important moments that make life worth living - to make friends and to fall in love, to take risks and find meaning. He wants to see her grow into a self-assured, confident young woman who chases her dreams, whatever they might ultimately be.

"Pretty sure that boy will only have to worry if he fails her," Oliver says, his voice hard. He doesn't miss the incredibly proud look that Felicity shoots him out of the corner of his eye. "If he uses that boy for target practice, it'll be because she told him to, not because he takes an interest in her."

"You know him that well, huh?" Lance asks sarcastically.

"We're… well-acquainted," Oliver replies.

"Yeah," Lance says, eyeing him. "Okay." Oliver has to bite his tongue to keep from retorting at the blatant disbelief in his tone as the policeman looks back to Felicity. "An' the kid's mom? Where's she at?"

"I'm the only mom she's ever known," Felicity replies, an edge of nerves sharpening her voice. Anyone listening would know that just by that sound that there's no power in the world that will be able to take Ellie away from them. "She belongs here. With me. With us. We can keep her safe… and loved and secure. There's literally no one else in the world who can do that. That's why she's here." She squeezes Oliver's hand. "Her father loves her so much but she's not safe back home right now, so this is her home. And it needs to stay that way. It needs to."

"Alright, alright, calm down," Lance advises, picking up on the increasing note of panic in her voice. "I ain't about to take her from you. It's not like I could prove any of this anyhow. Not without a DNA test."

Oh, that's a mind-boggling thought. Oliver's well aware of what a DNA test would reveal and wow, would that open up a can of worms they can't possibly deal with.

"Even if I were inclined to try an' get a court order to have one run - which I'm not, by the way," Lance adds when Felicity stiffens. "We both know what would happen to any DNA test given your… hobbies."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Felicity denies in a rush of breath.

"Sure you don't," Lance scoffs. "So The Arrow's got a three-year-old… Damn." He sighs and shakes his head, looking surprisingly bothered by this information. "And you aren't her actual mother? 'Cause, I gotta say… given your work with him, I kinda thought…"

"What?" Felicity asks. "That I was helping him because we have some kind of history? Because I'm secretly pining for him or something?" Felicity smiles tightly. "Sorry to disappoint you, Detective, but I help him because I believe in him and his mission. I've also never been pregnant, which is a pretty important step in having a child. And," she adds, glancing at Oliver, "as Oliver made it incredibly clear at the press conference, he and I are together. And I'm sort of head-over-heels crazy in love with him."

Lance winces at the declaration, but even his judgement can't tamp down the thrill that runs through Oliver's body at Felicity's words. He doesn't think he'll ever get tired of hearing her say she loves him, or the way a pleased flush colors her skin when she says it. It's still new, of course, but it strikes a chord in him that makes his heart beat faster and a grin tug at his lips without even thinking about it.

When Oliver looks back at Lance, the older man is staring at him with an indecipherable look.

"Okay then," Lance finally says, because there's really nothing else he can say. Not now. Not in the face of their united front. "How 'bout we talk about the cameras."

Taking her cue, Felicity launches into a highly technical explanation that Oliver's sure Lance follows about as well as he does. Which is to say not at all. But the gist of it is that they're being spied on, they can prove it, and there's material evidence for the police.

She pulls out her tablet as she talks, tapping into the cameras that are still transmitting in spite of Oliver's very public revelation of their existence.

Lance turns grim at the sight of the video feed.

They see a peek of Ellie through a hallway camera as she rushes around the kitchen, most definitely on a sugar high. They see Moira and Donna in an upstairs hall, Moira pointing out a baby picture of Oliver's sitting on an accent table. And they see themselves, all huddled around Felicity at the far end of the hallway. Lance looks up, right at where the camera must be.

Until he'd seen the actual proof of cameras watching them, Oliver's pretty sure that Lance hadn't quite believed their story. But now… now he does and he's entirely in law enforcement mode.

"I'm gonna need to have a word with your mother about who's had access to the house," Lance says, his voice gruff, taking in the scene before him before glancing at them. "You really think Blood had a hand in this?"

"I really, really do," Felicity confirms. "Probably not directly, because he's too smart for that, but it makes sense. If you fingerprint the cameras, you probably won't find his fingerprints, but looking at who benefits from spying on Moira or leaking Lily's existence? It's pretty obvious that it's Blood." A pinched look covers her face. "Or Isabel Rochev, given how buddy-buddy they were at his last press conference. My money's on both."

"On account of the takeover at Queen Consolidated," Lance adds with an absent nod, following the train of thought with ease. "Yeah. Okay. Politics and business. I can see it. But a theory's a long ways off from proof. This have anything to do with whatever danger the kid's in?"

"Not directly," Oliver answers. "But it certainly adds to it. The Arrow's got no shortage of enemies. Some are just… more of a problem than others."

"An' the enemy of my enemy's my friend," Lance says, giving them a heavy look. "Whoever's after the kid catches wind of Blood and Rochev having goals that line up and you might end up with a way bigger problem."

Oliver pauses at that. He looks to Felicity for guidance - an opinion, anything - but she doesn't look terribly concerned by this idea. Truth be told, neither is he. From the little they've seen of Zoom it doesn't seem like he's the sort to track down possible allies and work in concert with them. They could be wrong on that, of course, but something tells Oliver that Zoom and the duo of Blood and Isabel are two completely separate adversaries.

"At any rate," Lance continues. "The potential there is bad enough your 'friend' might be able to help us out." He completely ignores Oliver, looking to Felicity. "If he can point us in the direction of solid evidence against them, it'd be a big help."

"Yeah, okay," Felicity says, her eyes slipping over to Oliver before she catches herself. She nods, biting her lip. "I'll talk to him."

"Good," Lance says. "I'm gonna go have a word with Moira then." He reaches to take the tablet from her but he pauses at the last second. It takes Oliver a second to realize why. Felicity had flinched, pulling it closer to her chest. Lance stares at her. "I'm gonna need to take that thing as evidence. You know that, right?"

Felicity groans, staring down at the tech longingly. She must have known this was coming, he'd seen her deleting files in the car earlier, but the reality of parting her from her beloved technology is clearly something she's not ready to accept.

"I expect her back exactly as you got her," Felicity says as she slowly hands it over, like she's relinquishing Ellie rather than an iPad. "Don't you dare download any updates or delete anything. And if anyone spills anything on her, you don't want to know what I'll do."

Lance just blinks, staring at her like she's grown three more heads.

Oliver chuckles. "Felicity…" The look she sends him is anything but amused, and it's his turn to pause, giving her a placating smile. When she deflates slightly, he pulls her hand back from where it's stroke the smooth back of the tablet. "Come on. Let's go check on… on Lily. Alright? Detective Lance will take care of your tablet."

"He better," she grumbles, her eyes still on the tablet.

Oliver has to bite the inside of his lip to keep his grin at bay - it's ridiculously cute how protective she is of her tech. He wisely keeps that bit to himself though, not wanting to wade into the dangerous waters with Lance.

"He will," Oliver reiterates, and Felicity finally looks at him.

"I'm just gonna go find Moira," Lance says warily, stepping away the second Felicity's attention is diverted. "Keep your phones on you. We'll have more questions."

He's a smart man, Quentin Lance. He takes the opportunity to slip away the moment it's given without so much as a backwards glance. Oliver can respect that, especially given the fact that the man is actually walking away with Felicity's tech. But still, the reality that this man will somehow wind up his father-in-law one day is… unsettling.

Oliver shakes that thought off. "Come on." He pulls Felicity close and kisses her temple. "Let's go see how Ellie's doing." Her shoulders visibly relax at the mention of their daughter - if there's one thing that's going to distract her from letting go of her tablet, it's Ellie. Oliver pauses long enough to press a kiss to her shoulder as well before he takes her hand. "We can have some ice cream with her if you want."

He smiles when her eyebrows raise in contemplation at the idea.

"Make it wine and you've got a deal," she tells him. "For me, not Ellie. She's too little. Obviously. And later. Again, obviously. I don't think we're at the point where we wine out with our child right there. Yet. Or ever? It's only been a few days, I don't think we have a good foundation for that assumption just yet."

Oliver chuckles in agreement. "Later." He wraps his arm around her waist, pulling her into his side. Even if they wanted to, the wine cellar is in the opposite direction, and while he has no objection to taking her down there and letting her choose whatever she wants, he isn't ready to be away from Ellie just yet.

Still… the idea of Felicity plus wine plus hopefully a bed? It's tempting. Really tempting.

His grip on her tightens and he presses his lips to her temple again. "Definitely later."

Felicity bites her lip, ducking her head, turning her face into his chest at the promise in his voice. Oliver kisses the top of her head, prompting her to press a kiss right over his heart.

They hear Ellie well before they see her. She's talking a mile-a-minute, punctuated only by her own laughter as the sugar high she's clearly on fuels her babble.

"I'm the Waverider!" Ellie squeals, giggling madly. "Watch me go invisible! Faster, Big Sara!"

The instant they reach the kitchen, they both stop, taking in the scene. Diggle's sitting on a barstool, bowl and spoon in-hand, positioned where he has the entire kitchen in his line of sight, including Sara and Ellie. They're swooping around the room, Sara holding Ellie overhead, her little arms stretched out, highlighting the gleeful smile on her face.

"What exactly is a Waverider and why is it invisible?" Felicity asks quietly as they watch.

Oliver shakes his head. "A jet ski or something? Maybe a boat?"

Felicity looks up at him, raising her eyebrows skeptically. "You think we have a boat that turns invisible in the future?"

"Well," Oliver says, "I think me owning a boat at all is a longshot. Ellie's imagination is pretty amazing. Maybe it's a boat in her fairy kingdom." He shrugs. "Who knows."

"Daddy! Momma!" Ellie shrieks with delight. "Look, I'm flying!"

"And flying after ice cream at that," Felicity says, moving to stand next to Diggle. Sara lets Ellie drop in her arms, a move that has her shrieking even louder with laughter. How has this kid not thrown up yet? "That seems like a pretty questionable idea."

"You try telling her no," Sara huffs, collapsing next to Diggle with Ellie in her lap. "See how that works out for you."

"Can we do more, Big Sara?" Ellie asks, batting her eyelashes like it's an innocent thing, when it clearly isn't. She knows exactly what she's doing. "Please."

"Munchkin, I've done endurance training with the League of Assassins and you wear me out," Sara declares. "I need a break."

"Uncle Diggle?" Ellie asks, turning her wide-eyed gaze toward him and blinking up with the most guileless look Oliver's ever seen. He has to cover his mouth to hide the smile as she lays it on Digg. "Can we play Waverider?"

"Sorry, kiddo," Digg says, shaking his head. Ellie's face falls in one of the most exaggerated pouts Oliver's ever seen. "I'm not willing to risk it after you downed that much ice cream."

"Exactly how much ice cream did you have, Ellie-bug?" Felicity asks, making her way over to them. She runs her fingers through her long hair as Ellie replies, "Not that much, Momma."

"Are you done with my dad already?" Sara asks.

"He's talking to my mother," Oliver replies, but he only has eyes for his girls. Ellie beams up at her mother's attention, positively glowing as Felicity whispers something that makes her giggle. "I think he's done with us today anyway." He smiles wryly. "He thinks Ellie is The Arrow's daughter."

Digg snorts around a spoonful of ice cream.

"Well... " Sara says with a shrug. "He's not exactly wrong."

"We should probably let you guys head out, huh?" Felicity asks. She smiles at them. "Thank you guys for watching Ellie." With that, Felicity dips her head down to get closer to Ellie's level. "What do you think, sweetie?"

"Nuh uh," Ellie replies, shaking her head.

Felicity's eyes widen. "Nuh-uh?"

"Actually," Sara says, shifting Ellie so the toddler's further down on her leg. She starts bouncing her knee slightly, making Ellie giggle, and really, it's amazing that nothing's come up yet. Sara smiles at Felicity and then Oliver. "We have very important fairy business to discuss."

"Yep," Ellie agrees, nodding, even though she clearly has no idea what she's agreeing to.

"Is that so?" Felicity asks.

Sara nods, and as Oliver watches, Ellie mirrors her. Not for the first time since she's entered their lives, Oliver wonders just how much trouble he's in for with her. His daughter's not even four and she's already a force of nature.

"It is," Sara says, raising her eyebrows meaningfully. "Which means you guys should... take a few."

Oliver instantly knows what she's saying and he presses his lips into a thin line, raising his eyebrows at her in question - only Sara Lance would go through what she's gone through the last several days and be suggesting that.

Sara just smirks at him.

"Take a few..." Felicity repeats slowly, her brow furrowing. When the meaning behind Sara's words hit her, she jerks, her mouth forming a little 'o'. "Oh. Like... take a few."

Sara laughs, echoing Diggle's amused chuckles.

"Yes. Take a few." Sara wraps her arms around Ellie's waist. "Go. We've got the little one."

"Are you sure? I mean… no, no, you don't have to do that," Felicity says, turning to look back at Oliver. "I mean, that's not necessary. At all."

"We're not saying it's necessary, Felicity," Diggle replies with a smile. "We're here, and we're not going anywhere, not while all this is going on. So why not take advantage of it?"

"But…"

"Look, you two've been running yourselves ragged. Take a break. Take some time for yourselves. Take a nap." His eyes sparkle at that bit, and Oliver narrows his eyes at him. He just winks. "We've got Ellie."

"Is that… I mean… thank you. It's just that…" A hesitant look crosses Felicity's face as she looks at Diggle and then at Ellie. Oliver is suddenly reminded of earlier, when they watched Ellie leave them like it was no big deal. "I just…"

Oliver knows exactly what she's about to say and why she's about to say it. It's not just that they're imposing on Sara and Diggle's time, it's that the thought of being away from Ellie for longer than they already have been is damn near unbearable, so much so that he almost agrees with Felicity. But… they're also right. He wants to be with Ellie. He really, really does. But a little time to themselves sounds amazing. And yet… He's at war with himself over the idea and he knows Felicity is, too.

"How about we go get that wine you were talking about?" Oliver suggests. Felicity whirls around to face him, looking ready to argue - she thinks it's going out to get it, not a simple walk down the hallway. He smiles. "It's not that far."

"Well… okay," Felicity finally says.

"Good," he says with a nod. Oliver makes his way over to his family, taking Felicity's hand and leaning over to kiss the top of Ellie's head as he says, "You be good, okay?"

When his daughter giggles at the feel of his stubble, he grins and leans over even further to push his face into her little neck.

"Daddy!" Ellie yelps with laughter, trying to push him away.

"Have you seen the wine cellar yet?" Sara asks Felicity.

"No," Felicity replies, and then the words hit her. "Wait, there's a wine cellar here? What am I saying, of course there's a wine cellar."

Sara laughs. "Ollie, you've gotta take her down there."

"Come on," Oliver says, stepping back, pulling Felicity with him. "It won't take that long, I promise."

"No," Sara says, giving Oliver a meaningful look. "Take as long as you need."

Oliver doesn't reply and whatever Sara sees on his face makes her roll her eyes at him. He ignores her though, pulling Felicity into his side. He can't explain it, not exactly, but he knows both what Diggle and Sara are aiming for and what Felicity is feeling at the same time. He doesn't want to leave Ellie anymore than she does, but he also knows a few minutes alone with each other is more than needed. And wanted. God, it's wanted.

And the important part is that they have a few minutes to do just that.

"We'll be right back," Felicity says over her shoulder.

"You better not be," Diggle replies as Sara reiterates, "Take your time."

"Take your time!" Ellie yells after them, prompting Oliver to chuckle.

They pause at the entrance to the kitchen again, watching Ellie scramble onto Diggle's lap. As he turns to say something to Sara, Ellie reaches into his bowl and scoops up a strawberry. She pops it into her mouth just as Diggle looks at her.

"Hey now!" Diggle mock-protests, pulling the bowl away from her. "Ice cream thief!"

"It's sharing!" Ellie laughs. "I'm a really great sharer!"

Diggle snorts at that just as Sara looks up, catching them.

"Go," she orders.

And they do.

The idea of time alone for just the two of them is incredibly appealing, but still, leaving Ellie behind feels wrong. As much as he very much wants a few moments with just him and Felicity, it's surprisingly hard to walk away from Ellie, which is ridiculous because she just in the kitchen in the same house.

Had they actually been talking about going out on a date together? Because wow, if leaving their daughter to go downstairs is hard, Oliver isn't quite sure how they're going to manage a dinner out with just the two of them…

Or…

An idea forms in his head, but before he can suggest it, Felicity says, "I feel selfish."

"You're not selfish," Oliver instantly replies. "And I wasn't kidding about the wine cellar, it's right here."

As Oliver opens a door, flipping on a light that illuminates a set of stairs that goes deep into the foundation of the house, Felicity shakes her head, pausing before they can go down.

"I want time alone," Felicity says, resting her hands on his chest. "Like… a lot - like a lot a lot, like sometimes when I let myself think about being alone with you I will do just about anything to do just that a lot…" Oliver chuckles, wrapping his arms around her. "But leaving Ellie, especially with everything that's going on… What if she-"

"Needs us?" Oliver finishes for her. "I feel the same way, Felicity, trust me. But it's not selfish, okay? Digg and Sara can keep her safe. And she's happy."

Felicity smiles, clearly remembering the scene they'd just left. "Yeah."

"And they have a point," Oliver continues, pulling her closer, swaying with her slightly. "We haven't had a lot of time to ourselves. Any, actually."

"That's true," she whispers, biting her bottom lip.

"And while seeing our future in front of us so clearly is amazing, we also deserve to enjoy the present a little bit." Oliver looks at her, his eyes dancing over her face, letting himself revel. "We deserve some time for just us, to become the parents she has one day. We deserve a first date…" She slowly grins, leaning into him more, relaxing into his embrace. Oliver smiles, his voice lowering, just for her as he adds, "And a tenth date, and a fiftieth date." Felicity laughs, making his smile widen as her face lights up. God, she's so beautiful. "Zoom doesn't get to take that from us. Neither do Blood and Isabel. That's ours."

It's true, and as it settles over her, it brings a peace and calm he hadn't really expected to be able to give her. Felicity stares at him, almost like she's drinking him in. Her eyes are full of wonder, warmth… happiness… love. It will never, ever cease to amaze him how lucky he is to have her in his life, by his side.

Before he can say just that, Felicity pushes herself up onto her toes to kiss him, long and soft, her hands cupping his face. Oliver sighs, melting against her, holding her tighter as her thumbs brush over his scruff.

"Okay," she breathes after they part, her lips brushing against his.

"Okay?" he asks, his voice coming out more gravelly than he'd expected.

"Okay," she confirms with a content smile and another kiss, one that takes his breath away. His skin tingles with anticipation, a shiver falling down his spine. It's perfect so damn perfect. Felicity's next breath is shaky, and it makes his heart soar that he can affect her as much as she does him. "So… first date, huh?"

Oliver hums his agreement, nuzzling his face against hers. "I have an idea."

"What sort of idea?"

"One that involves…" Oliver kisses her again. "Wine… a blanket… cheese…"

Felicity giggles. "Like a picnic?"

"Exactly like a picnic." He kisses her lips, but he doesn't stop there, dropping soft kisses on her cheek, her nose, her brow before he works his way back down the other side. "Let's do one thing at a time. First, the wine…"

Felicity smiles as he nods, giving him a breathy, "Okay," because she knows exactly what he's doing. She leans into him, closing her eyes. "And then?"

"And then we'll get some food," he whispers. "And then we'll check on Ellie."

Felicity looks up at him, shaking her head with a small smile. "I love you."

"I love you."

They kiss, this one lasting longer, but not nearly long enough at the same time. As the seconds pass, as they slowly push themselves even closer, the world around them slowly fading, the air around them grows warmer, filling with the promise of the future.

Their future.

With a strangled whimper, Felicity finally pulls back, settling back on her heels. She keeps her hands on his face, her eyes sparkling with blatant affection as she whispers, "Why don't you take me on the last first date of my life?"

Well… when she puts it like that…

"I would be happy to," he replies.

Chapter Text

The wine cellar is huge. Like ridiculously huge. Like her-entire-apartment-could-easily-fit-inside-this-space kind of huge. It's all artfully wine-stained wood recycled from used oak barrels and accented in brushed nickel hardware. The walls are meant to look like they're carved out of the ground, but Felicity's fairly certain that's merely an effect created by imported stone and an absurd amount of money. The most important thing about the space, though, is that there are rows and rows of wines in the carefully temperature-controlled basement, racked neatly, waiting for the perfect moment when they've reached their full potential. They aren't even dusty, meaning someone comes down and takes care of the wine. Moira Queen probably has a sommelier on retainer.

It's beautiful... and it's probably because Felicity's having a tiny emotional crisis that she thinks that.

Oliver's chuckle echoes from behind her.

"Beautiful, huh?" he asks as he sidles up next to her. Great, so she's slipped right into speaking her thoughts. He slips his arm around her waist as he follows her gaze. Oliver kisses her temple, something he seems to have picked up in the last day that she really, really likes. "I think an emotional crisis is worthy of wine."

"I wholeheartedly agree." Felicity leans into him and he accepts her weight completely, his arm tightening around her, holding her securely against him. Her heart flutters, knowing she could drop right then and he wouldn't let her touch the ground. She sneaks her hand around to cover his and he moves so their fingers are laced together. "Does it still count as an emotional crisis if it's practically a constant state of freak-out?"

Oliver smiles. "I think that's what they call being a parent." He kisses her again. "And considering we just found this out… what, two days ago? I think we're doing okay. Alright…" He takes a deep breath, looking around. "Let's find some wine."

"Right," Felicity says with a nod. "Wine. For our date."

Date. Her heart flutters all over again, but for a very different reason. When they'd talked about it yesterday, it'd been a thing that would happen eventually. She hadn't really let herself think about the idea of actually getting dressed up - specifically wearing something for him - or of going to a restaurant, sitting down, eating and drinking, talking about… first-date things. There was too much going on to think about it - Ellie being at the very top of that list - but now, now that they're actually doing it…

She's nervous.

A date. With Oliver Queen. Oh wow. She feels a little silly, because really, they've done a lot of things that far surpass first-date status - not counting the whole they have a kid together thing or that they've bared more to each other by the simple fact of working together in the vigilante business, but also that they've already made out, they've done other things… they've already said I love you. And yet, she's still nervous, and the more she thinks about it, the stupider she feels.

This is Oliver.

But also… this is Oliver.

Felicity takes a slow breath, but it does nothing to appease the butterflies working themselves into a frenzy in her stomach.

Oliver suddenly curls himself around her, wrapping both his arms around her waist, pulling her flush against him so her side is plastered to his front. Her eyes flutter shut as he presses a kiss to her cheek - did he always smell this good? - before his lips find her ear. If it'd been his intention to distract her from the uncomfortable idea of leaving Ellie, she has to admit he's doing a very fine job of it.

"You okay?"

His breath against her ear should not make her feel like that.

Felicity nods a little too rapidly. "Yeah." She doesn't sound that fine. She sounds breathless and worn. "Why?"

Oliver moves one of his hands to her arm. His skin is hot, making her fiercely aware of him in a way that she wasn't just a second ago. He slips his hand down until he's cupping her elbow, his calloused fingers gently rubbing back and forth. His touch is deliciously rough from where he grips his bow, from the hours he's spent making arrows, the hours training without any tape to protect his skin. It's a sharp contrast to how he handles her, making her forget how to do anything but feel.

"You're trembling," he whispers.

Felicity's stomach swoops.

His voice is a low rasp, and her next breath gets stuck in her throat as Oliver moves his hand slowly, up and down, in what she's sure is supposed to be a comforting move, but it's not. It's more, and it sends a lick of fire across the surface of her skin. It's jarring, how quickly they've gone from nothing to everything, from holding each other and both of them being fine to this… to the wild flush creeping up her neck and over her cheeks, to the shiver that slices down her spine like a thin knife, to the over-awareness of him where he stands, his stubble soft where it scrapes against her cheek, his lips scorching, his entire body so close.

When she shifts, turning further into him, she feels the insistent press of his growing arousal against her hip.

Felicity's heart stumbles all over itself in a mixture of anticipation and trepidation as her thoughts stutter to a stop.

A minute, that's how long they've been down there. One minute of talking about her desperate desire to not be away from their daughter and then the wine… one minute of finally being alone with him and already she's about to lose it. Already she's aching for him, like the pause button they'd hit last night has disappeared, leaving her needing to feel more.

It suddenly hits her that they haven't really had a moment to do this, to just… exist. To simply feel, to be with each other, to savor the present. They've had moments, sure, but there's always been something else under the surface - Ellie's mere existence or the fight with Slade, the lies they'd had to tell the press or Zoom's attack… there'd always been something else.

But now it's just them.

And it's overwhelming. She has no idea how to handle it.

He'd said something… about…

Trembling.

God, he's right. She is trembling. A lot. It's one part nerves, one part the desperate urge to get her hands on him and a healthy portion of need to feel his on her.

"Well," Felicity finally breathes, the sound coming out in a choked gasp. "It's… uh…"

Cold. That's what she'd wanted to say, aiming for cheeky, but the word fails her. When she doesn't finish her thought, she feels his lips curl into a smile where they're still pressed to her ear. Oh yes, he knows exactly what he's doing. And it's working… for both of them. Her shoulder is pressed to his chest, right over his heart, and his is pounding just as hard as hers is. When Felicity unconsciously presses herself closer, nuzzling him, he sighs, sinking into her.

Felicity feels the hard bulge in his pants actually grow with his desire. For her.

A slow rush of excitement fills her and Felicity bites her lip, the press of her teeth against the flesh grounding her some.

"You are distracting," she finally says, releasing her abused lower lip from her teeth.

"Am I?" he asks, amusement lacing his tone. "I'm sorry." He doesn't sound the least bit repentant and that's only emphasized when he takes a step, moving her with him… right towards a wooden pillar.

When Felicity realizes what he's doing, realizes how blatantly obvious he's being, she giggles, which makes him chuckle. She suddenly feels light as a feather. She lets go, lets him catch her, hold her in a way she never has before. Everything is still very new, very fresh, but it's not at the same time, because it's them. It's freeing, and it's quickly becoming addicting.

She wants more.

"Oliver…" she whispers, running her hand up to his bicep. She tangles his shirt between her fingers, warmth pooling in the pit of her stomach.

"Hmm?" He moves her in his arms so she's facing him just as her back meets the pillar. He instantly crowds her against it, pressing the full length of his body along hers. Felicity shudders. He's hard, everywhere - his muscles are solid, rippling under her touch; his chest is wide, his shoulders broad, his long muscled legs…

He presses her further into the pillar, his breaths coming out in short pants, matching the rapidly growing staccato of her own. The sound of blood pounding through her veins fills her ears as she wraps her arms around him, pushing her hands into his hair.

Oliver rolls his hips into her, the bulge in his pants pressing right against her center, sending a devastating wave of need through her.

"Oh god," Felicity gasps, the sound drowning out his moans as he does it again… and again. Oliver shivers, letting out a breathy whine that makes her bite her lip as his nose brushes over hers. God, even that is too much, like her skin's been electrified and every single touch sends little charges across every inch of her.

This is different. It's different than last night, different from the moments they've stolen over the last few days because now they know they can have what they want, they can take it… and they will.

Oliver surrounds her, taking over everything. They aren't even kissing yet and already she feels like the air's been stolen from her, like everything inside her has been rearranged to accommodate the stark sensations raining through her body.

God, if this is what it's like right now, what will happen when they do more?

They were down there for… something. Something that involved…

"Wine," Felicity suddenly whispers. "We need to find… wine."

"We're surrounded by wine," Oliver replies absently, sounding as breathless as she feels. "I'd say we found it."

"Yeah, but… we're supposed to be… getting… wine… and if you don't stop… we won't get-"

"We will," Oliver promises. "But just…"

His voice fades off, like he's having trouble stringing two words together, much less an entire sentence, and she's right there with him.

Felicity's painfully aware of his hands - one slips down to her hip and around, touching her backside just enough to make her sex clench. She moans, squeezing her thighs together, shivering when that sends a dull thread of pleasure through her. His other hand cups her cheek, angling her face up towards his. His lips brush over hers again.

"Oliver…"

"In a minute," Oliver whispers. "Just… a minute. I just want…"

They'd kissed barely a moment ago, they'd kissed a lot a moment ago, but this is insanely hotter for reasons she can't even fathom. The anticipation of it, the expectation, knowing what she'll get when they finally kiss again, when they finally give in… it's a special brand of torture, one she's never experienced before. She wants it to stop with a desperation that sets her on edge but at the same time, it feels good. So, so good, so…

"Felicity," Oliver sighs.

Fe-li-ci-ty.

God, she loves when he says her name like that, drawn out like he's savoring the feel of each syllable against his tongue. She shivers, fisting his hair, but he doesn't kiss her, not yet. He hovers over her, so tauntingly close…

His hips jerk against hers again, and Felicity tries to lift her leg to wrap around him but her dress is too damn tight. She wants to feel him pressed against her like her last night, feel the heavy hardness she's only getting hints of. Even if they're still wearing too much clothing, she doesn't care, she needs to feel him any way she can, grinding against her, his hips rocking in time with hers, rubbing… the way he had last night, the way he'd pushed her to that beautiful crest, the pleasure rising in a white hot burn inside her…

A flood of heat swamps her at the memory and it's her undoing. Felicity grips his hair in tight fists and pulls him down, meeting him halfway, rasping, "Oliver," before her lips cover his. She instantly opens for him and he doesn't waste a single second, angling his head to deepen the kiss. With a heavy groan, Oliver shoves her back against the pillar, both of them damn near ravaging each other in their haste to get closer.

The kiss is hard, rough, filled with unbridled desire and need, both of them giving and taking with equal abandon. Their combined gasps and moans echo through the cellar, the rasp of her dress against the rough pillar, the squeak of his shoe on the floor as he pushes her further up the post.

God, yes, it's everything she's wanted, everything she let herself wonder about late at night in the cover of darkness, half lost to dreams; everything she found herself thinking about when she watched him training - on the salmon ladder, doing pull-ups from the ceiling, pushups on the ground, his skin glistening with sweat, his muscles rippling, especially when he used the training dummy… It's everything and Felicity gives into the onslaught just as much as she gives him her own, nipping at his lips as his chin scrapes over hers, his stubble leaving a delicious burn in his path. She'd loved his stubble before, but this is carnal, almost like he's marking her just as much as she's staking her claim on him.

Oliver's hands roam, leaving her nerves buzzing as he trails his fingers all over her, exploring. She's shockingly aware of how huge they are, and a shot of anticipation rings through her when he spans them over her ribs, his thumbs brushing against the underside of her breasts. He moves higher, following the gentle swell, and oh, they're so much more sensitive than they were a minute ago - they're heavier, responsive to his every touch…

His thumbs ghosts over her hardening nipples.

Felicity cries out, and he does it again, harder.

"Aah…!" she whimpers against her lips, shivering. She feels it in her breasts, her nipples tightening to the point of pain, and she whines helplessly, kissing him even more fiercely.

"God, Felicity," Oliver sighs, his voice rivaling that of his modulator. It's pure sexual need, and it sends another streak of heat through her. He covers her mouth with his again, swallowing the rest of the little noises she's making. He pushes his hands up her side, his thumbs following the gentle curve of her breasts. It's achingly slow and too fast at the same time, and the heady mixture has her gasping for air, her lungs burning with the need for oxygen.

Felicity pulls back abruptly, sucking in a breath so quickly that it makes her dizzy, her eyes rolling back into her head, her mouth falling in a soundless cry as he heads straight for her nipples…

She slams her head right into the pillar with a solid thud.

A burst of pain shatters inside her skull, and it instantly douses the cloud of lust they'd accidentally tripped into.

"Oh shit," Oliver breathes. "Are you okay?"

He pulls back to look at her, his heavy pants drifting over her cheek, his hand moving to the back of her head just as one of hers does. Their fingers tangle in her hair, dislodging her ponytail, both of them finding the place she'd hit. When they do, her face crinkles with pain as she whimpers, "Ow…"

"Are you okay?" he repeats.

Felicity makes a little noise, but before she can finish, the sound quickly morphs into a disbelieving laugh.

She giggles, her entire body shaking - it's partly the fact that she just ruined the hottest make-out session of her entire life by hitting her head and partly the pain that's positively radiating through her skull.

Oliver can't help but chuckle as he asks again, "Are you alright?" His fingers gently rub the spot, the pain fading oh-so-much quicker for that reason alone. "That couldn't have felt good."

"It didn't," Felicity replies, delirious laughter punctuating the words.

"I'm sorry," he whispers. He cups the back of her head and she sighs, leaning into the pillow he's made for her.

He's still chuckling under his breath at her.

"It's not funny," she says.

"No, you're right," Oliver agrees, nodding, but his smile doesn't go anywhere and she narrows her eyes at him, which only makes his smile even wider. "It's not."

A week ago, the thought of Oliver Queen grinning like an idiot, completely relaxed and at ease in her arms, his lips swollen from her kisses, his cheeks flushed, his eyes bright and mischievous… well, that thought wouldn't have even existed. Not in any real kind of way, anyhow. Felicity can't remember ever seeing this grin on his face before, and it makes her chest swell with happiness as much as it makes her want to smack him because of why he's grinning at her like that.

She shakes her head, tapping his lips with her finger. "You know, I'd probably believe you if that stupid dopey smile wasn't still on your face."

Oliver huffs out a quiet little chuckle, just for her, and he kisses the pad of her finger, his soft, moistened lips grazing her skin.

And just like that, the haze of need is back, like it'd never gone away. Which it hadn't, not really, because the full length of his body is still pressed against hers, and as his lips linger on her skin. She's once again completely aware of just how much of him there is… and how hard he is. How hard all of him is.

Her mouth goes dry, her eyes dropping to his mouth, his perfect, beautiful mouth. Felicity's never given herself the opportunity to really look at him, because before, it'd been so wrong. They hadn't been like that, and she'd honestly thought nothing would ever happen between them, definitely not like this.

But it has happened - it is happening - and for the first time ever, Felicity lets herself just study him.

Oliver Queen is a stunning man. She's always known this, but it's a different thing to take the time to really note it. He's gorgeous - his brow strong and cheekbones sharp, the harsh cut of his jawline accenting the strength he radiates so effortlessly. And his eyes, she thinks she could get lost in his crystalline blue eyes. They're darker now, his lids slowly growing heavy again, his pupils widening as he returns her gaze, adoration and desire shining back at her.

Felicity slowly moves to cup his cheek, running her fingers over his soft, warm lips. They part, a soft breath dancing over her skin. She traces the lines of his face, taking her time, memorizing all of him with the touch of her fingers, brushing over his mole, his nose, up and over his brow before drifting down to drag her nails through his beard. The only sound for a second is their soft breaths and the rasp of her nails dragging through his facial hair… and then she moves her hands further down, her eyes following her own movements.

She drags her nails down his neck - he swallows, his muscles tightening under her touch - and she bites her lip, sucking it into her mouth. Felicity doesn't miss his quick exhale or the way he slowly pushes them back into the pillar, until he's plastered against her again.

He doesn't do anything else though, letting her touch him however she wants.

She reaches for his collar, where his tie still hangs. She remembers him loosening it in the car earlier, remembers the quick way he'd undone the top button, letting his throat breathe as they'd left the press conference.

Felicity slowly undoes his tie the rest of the way, fingers working their way through the loosened knot as her eyes rise to his again.

The air practically sparks between them, making it a tangible thing that grows hotter with each passing second as she tugs the tie free.

Oliver stays perfectly still as she pulls on it until it's undone.

They never look away from each other as Felicity sprawls her hands over his chest, digging her nails in lightly. His face tightens minutely, just enough for her to see as his muscles contract under her palms. But it's the way his eyes flare with interest, the way his jaw clenches… oh, that strikes home how deeply she's affecting him.

She files that away for the future as she starts unbuttoning his shirt. The air around them grows thicker, and she only makes it to the third button down before she runs out of patience.

She has to touch him.

Felicity pushes her hands inside, slipping underneath his undershirt. He's hot - his skin burning her palms - and she gasps at the sensation. Her eyes never leave his as she runs her fingers over the scars she'd memorized long ago - they're still rough, like he never touches them - before she slides her hands up to his neck again.

It's only when she feels the taut muscles there and the way his jaw is clenched that she realizes how on edge he is.

And he's trembling now, like he's fighting himself, holding back, grasping at the barest bit of restraint he can hold onto.

"You're trembling," Felicity whispers, mirroring his earlier words. His only response is to narrow his eyes, pinning her in place - and wow, that does things to her.

Felicity shifts, moving her legs so one is pressed between his. His breath changes, shortening as she leans into the pillar, shimmying so her dress rides up…

"What are…" Oliver manages before gritting his teeth, his eyes fluttering shut as he loses himself in her touch. He falls against her, like he needs to get closer. A powerful feeling rockets through her at the knowledge that she can do this to him - she gets to do this to him - and it positively explodes when she presses her leg up so her thigh brushes against his straining erection.

"Oh god," he moans, his hips jerking forward, rubbing himself right against her, making them both gasp. His hands slip around her to the pillar and he grips it tightly, whispering, "Felicity, if you don't stop, we're never leaving this cellar." His mouth is right next to her ear and the rush of breath across her skin makes her shudder, but the heady feeling of knowing she's the one compromising his usually stoic sense of self-control is more than enough to ground her.

She tilts her head with a soft, "Oh?" - angling herself so she can see the war for restraint playing out across his face.

Both of them know full well that staying down here isn't an option either of them want. Not right now. While the idea of it is incredibly attractive - beyond attractive, it's so appealing she can taste it - there's also a very large part of her that wants to get back upstairs to their daughter.

Still… she loves the feeling of him like this, so affected that he has to dig his fingers into the wooden pillar, probably leaving permanent marks with his nails in an effort to keep himself together.

Oliver slowly opens his eyes, staring at her with bone-shattering intensity. "Felicity…"

"Yes?"

"Not down here."

"Oh, but…" She shifts again, pushing her leg up as high as it can go. Oliver hisses, his hands flying to her hips to stop her.

"The first time I make love to you," he whispers, staring at her, "is going to be in a bed." She forgets how to breathe at the promise in his gaze. "And you'll be completely naked… bare beneath me." Oliver leans forward, simultaneously pushing himself against her leg while also managing to push the skirt of her dress up so his leg rubs against her inner thighs, making her shudder. "Where I can see…" His lips hover over hers as he finishes with, "And feel every inch of you."

Oh. God.

An image of her sprawled out on their bed upstairs, the sheets cradling her as he climbs on top of her, his eyes dragging down her naked body, quickly followed by his hands… his tongue

"Not down here," she agrees, her voice cracking slightly.

He gives her a chaste kiss, the complete opposite of what they'd just done.

She's pretty sure he'd intended to move back after that, to step away, to pull himself together and let her do the same, except… except that's just not an option, not anymore. Something tells her it will never be an option - as long as there is an opportunity, they are going to take it.

"Oliver," she manages just before his lips crash into hers again.

Felicity moans, opening for him just as he does for her, their tongues meeting in the middle. There's remnants of the toothpaste and mouthwash she remembers him using that morning, but most of it is him, pure Oliver.

More, more, more

But before it can escalate again, before they take advantage of that pillar, they force themselves to pull back.

"Not down here," Oliver repeats, shaking his head. She's not sure if he's saying it for himself, for her, or for both of them. Probably both, because if he keeps touching her like that, she won't want to stop again.

With ragged breaths, they let each other go.

Oliver sets her back on her feet, stepping back a few paces, his eyes never leaving hers. They slowly readjust their clothes, her smoothing out wrinkles that will definitely not be going away anytime soon as he buttons his shirt again. He yanks his tie off, crumpling it up and shoving it into his pocket. Felicity watches his every move, her eyes lingering on his tented pants.

Soon.

When she tugs her hair out to put back up again, he watches her just as intensely.

It's a miracle, really, that they keep their hands to themselves… even though the sight of his mussed hair makes her hands itch to mess it up even more.

"So," Felicity starts, her voice hoarse as she finally looks around again. Frak, this wine cellar is huge. "Wine."

"Pick anything you want," Oliver says, shoving his hands into his pockets. She glances at him, noticing his hands are fisted tight, and the idea that he has to do that to keep himself from touching her again sends a thrill through her.

"Anything, huh?" Felicity asks, stepping up to one of the shelves. She ignores how liquidy her legs feel just as much as she ignores the evident wetness between her thighs as she picks up a bottle. When she sees the label, her eyes go wide and she spins to face him. "Do you know how much this costs?"

Oliver shrugs, a tiny smile pulling at his lips, his eyes barely glancing at it. It's the exact reaction she'd expect, considering. It actually reminds her of the little shrug he'd given her before their first mission together, when Diggle had asked her, "You really have no idea how rich his family is, do you?" She smiles at that, and Oliver cocks his head in question.

"Just remembering that auction," she explains, "with those jewels you…" Felicity snaps her fingers. "Bought like that." They share a smile before she turns back to the rack, putting the bottle back. "Alright, let's see…" She scans the rack, thinking that it has to be red when that too triggers a memory. Felicity turns back to him. "Was there ever actually a case of that Lafite Rothschild? The 1982?"

Oliver laughs, almost in surprise. "There was." And then he winces, a light blush coloring his cheeks. "Although… the scavenger hunt I was talking about was from about ten years ago."

"Oliver Queen," Felicity gasps in mock-outrage. "You bribed me with something you didn't even have."

"I was just going to buy it for you," he admits.

"Which you never did," Felicity points out and he ducks his head with a sheepish smile. She sees him scrunch his face up and it's so cute that she can't help but grin. "All that work for nothing. You forgot about it, didn't you?"

"No," Oliver says, looking up again. "No, I didn't. I did at the time," he amends, and when she moves in to say, 'Aha!' he stops her. "Which I will never, ever do again. But I remembered later." He smiles. "I actually thought of it in the middle of the night a few months ago." Felicity raises her eyebrows at that and Oliver rolls his eyes, chuckling. "Not… like that. Digg and I were out patrolling, and you were telling Digg over the coms the best way to get red wine out of carpet."

She remembers that night. She'd gone on to explain that she really didn't have that much experience with it, despite her step-by-step instructions, but she knew enough that the method she'd found online - with her own adjustments - worked really, really well. On clothes too. And bedsheets.

"I was thinking about you a lot then," Oliver says, his voice low.

Her stomach does the swoop-down-to-touch-the-floor thing that leaves her knees feeling unsteady. "You were?"

"I was." He stares at her, and Felicity swears it's like he's touching her all over again. She can actually feel his hands on her… at her waist and then on her hips… the path his thumbs had traced over her breasts, his mouth on hers…

Oliver licks his lips, adding, "I ordered a bottle, I couldn't find anywhere that sold a case of it. It was supposed to be shipped to Verdant actually. It should still be there."

"Is that so…" Felicity responds slowly. "Well, we should probably check in on the status of that."

"We should," he agrees. His eyes darken. "We definitely should."

Oliver grabs her hand to tug her towards him. He twists her so her back hits his chest and then he wraps himself around her again, pulling her flush against him. Her breath catches - he's still semi-hard, but when he presses himself against her backside with an insistence that has them both gasping, she feels the bulge starting to strain against his pants again. Felicity wraps her arms around his.

As if he'd never stopped touching her, the same heat cuts a wicked swath through her.

"You know…" Oliver's tongue darts out to her ear - he's no longer being coy or cute or aiming to distract her. Now it's just a blatant attack, one she's falling under at an alarming rate. "I think I want to know what it tastes like on you."

"On… me?" she repeats in a daze, turning her face into his, seeking the delicious burn of his beard.

"Mm-hmm," Oliver whispers, nuzzling the side of her neck, making her shiver. It highlights her hard nipples and the very insistent throb starting to grow between her thighs again. "I was thinking about… spilt wine…" He drags his lips up the side of her throat. "And licking it up."

The thought of his tongue cleaning up stray lines of wine over her chest, her stomach… between her legs…

"Oh, god," she whimpers.

"But first…" He presses a hard kiss to the side of her neck and then he straightens. Felicity almost stumbles, but he doesn't let her go, keeping her steady as her eyes fly open. "We need to find some other wine for tonight."

Other wine.

"Right." Felicity nods. "Wine."

It takes her a minute to cool the buzz of need that has her on edge - he had to talk about actually licking wine off of her, didn't he?

"Wine," she says again, because that might be the only word her mouth is capable of forming at this point that isn't his name or "oh God yes please" and either of those options seem counterproductive at the moment. Or very productive, depending on how you look at it.

"Wine," he agrees, and when she looks at him, when she sees the satisfied little smirk playing on his lips, Felicity rolls her eyes, which only makes him chuckle.

She points at the opposite end of the aisle they're in with a stern, "You stay over there, mister."

"Yes, ma'am."

Ugh, him pretending to be all proper does nothing to help their situation. Why is him calling her 'ma'am' a turn on? Is it just everything he does? She sort of thinks it might be.

"I mean it."

Oliver just nods, but before she can go to her end, he grabs her for one more kiss.

She feels it all the way down to her toes before he lets her go again.

For the next few minutes, they simply look. At wine, not each other, which is something of a victory. Felicity points out things about the bottles she's looking at as Oliver mostly meanders near her, patiently waiting for her to make a choice.

Choosing only one, though, is turning out to be an impossible task.

Felicity's about to grab a random bottle and declare that the winner when he breaks the silence.

"So…" he starts, pulling her attention. He's picking at a wine label before looking at her again. "Who's Cooper?"

Everything inside her freezes.

That is the very last thing she's expecting - literally the last thing - and she has no idea how to respond to it.

Felicity pauses, vaguely realizing her hand is still grazing the bottle she'd been about to pick up. She pulls her hand back, making a fist.

Cooper.

Well, that was a part of her past that she'd never, ever wanted to touch ever again, although Hurricane Donna had sort of blown that desire to smithereens.

Felicity winces, remembering Donna's question - "Is she Cooper's daughter, baby?"

"You caught that, huh?" she asks, angling for more time before she has to answer. Forever. Forever would be preferable, really.

Oliver smiles, giving her a little shrug. "I was just curious." It's amazing how much she can suddenly spot the differences in his shrugs - the ones from earlier were fun, in the heat of the moment, designed to keep the light mood going, but this one… this one is the opposite of nonchalant, despite the intent in his voice. "It just made me realize that I don't know that much about your life before you moved to Starling City."

That's crap and they both know it. How many nights had they spent on the coms, filling the silence with inane chatter that usually involved silly stories from her life in Las Vegas and then at MIT? A lot. But none of them had involved Cooper. On purpose. She barely let herself think about him, much less talk about him. Because thinking about that… it still makes her stomach churn. It'd been easier to push past it earlier because telling her mother everything kind of took precedence, but now that it's just them, in the unassuming silence of the wine cellar…

Acid burns her stomach.

Oliver must be able to see that on her face because he instantly backtracks, licking his lips like he does when he doesn't want to push boundaries that aren't his to push.

"You don't have to tell me."

"No," Felicity says. She smiles, but it's tight. She reaches out to grip one of the wine racks. "I want to."

And, to her surprise, it's true. Despite the fact that it's making her feel like she's ripping open a wound, she wants him to know. It's another reminder of just how much has changed over the last few days. She wouldn't have been this open to letting him in like this a few days ago.

When Oliver's eyebrows go up slightly, his eyes widening with interest, she finds herself wondering what he's been thinking since Donna brought Cooper up - the thought of anyone but Oliver being the father of her child is like a knife to the chest; Felicity wonders if Oliver felt the same way when Donna asked her question, despite both of them knowing how ludicrous the idea was.

"Cooper," she says, "was my ex-boyfriend. In college."

His eyes soften as he repeats, "Was?"

"You heard my mom upstairs?" she asks, holding onto the wine rack like it's the only thing keeping her up. Which it is, sort of, because the more she starts chipping away at the memories, the more it starts to feel like she's turning inside out… but not for the reason she might have thought. At his nod, she says, "He died a few years ago."

"What happened?"

She opens her mouth to respond, but the words fall short, and when they still refuse to come out, Felicity lets out an uncomfortable laugh instead. She hasn't talked about Cooper with anyone, not since it happened. She feels her natural reaction to stop and tell him that he just died, to hide that pain, but at the same time, she doesn't want to. It's like the wound never healed right and she wants to open it back up, to let it heal correctly this time.

It's jarring and it leaves her momentarily speechless.

He watches her struggle and he takes a step towards her, regret ringing in his tone as he whispers, "Felicity, you don't…"

"It's okay," she says, cutting him off. "I want to. Strangely enough. It's… I just haven't ever talked about it." She lets out a self-deprecating laugh. "I barely let myself think about it, much less… use words."

Oliver doesn't say anything, waiting, and she takes complete advantage of it, trying to organize her jumbled thoughts. After a second though, it proves futile. Screw it. She just starts talking, telling him the first things that come to mind. How she met Cooper, how he was basically perfect for where she was at that point in her life for a lot of reasons that really, really don't apply to now… most especially because of how they spent their time. She tells him about the 'hacktivist' group she fell into with him and his roommate, tries to explain the things they could do, the things they did, trying to save the world one hack at a time.

"I guess…" Felicity pauses and then shakes her head. "I guess you could say it was my first attempt at being a hero."

That makes Oliver smile and he closes the distance between them, wrapping his arms around her waist.

Felicity lets go of the wine rack to grab his shoulders.

When she hesitates again, Oliver gently prods her. "So what happened?"

It comes out silted at first as she describes their last hurrah, including how Cooper ended up taking the fall for her.

"But he was the one who erased the loans."

"And I was the one who gave him direct access to do it," Felicity replies, her voice growing heavy. "It wasn't just him." He pinches his lips in placation and she closes her eyes. "Sorry, I'm not… I guess I'm not… It was just so stupid, and I was so mad when he did it, when he… and then he told them he'd written the virus, and I…"

Oliver's voice is soft as he asks, "So what happened to him?"

"He, uh…" Felicity takes a deep breath, swallowing past the lump in her throat. She's never told anyone how Cooper died, she's never said the words out loud… "He hung himself before the sentencing."

"Oh…" he breathes. "I'm sorry."

"Me too." She takes a deep breath, letting it out in a heavy gush as she shakes her head. "I haven't talked about Coop in a long… long time, and it's… It's weird."

"I'm glad you told me," Oliver whispers, holding her closer. She leans into him.

"Me too." Felicity smiles, and this one is real, reaching her eyes as she looks up at him. "I've kept all that in for so long. I kinda feel like I… I don't know, let go of something."

Oliver nods. "I know the feeling."

Felicity thinks back to the other morning in the pillow castle, when he'd been trying to explain how he felt about Laurel and Sara.

She believes him.

"Well." Felicity chuckles dryly. "Nothing like talking about old lovers to get into the romantic mood." Oliver huffs out a quiet laugh as she turns the word 'lover' over in her mind. "Lovers. It sounds creepy no matter how you say it." That makes him chuckle even more, and Felicity looks up at him. "I hope I didn't bring the mood down."

Oliver shakes his head, the soft look he's giving her going nowhere. "You didn't." But then the look on his face changes and she raises her eyebrows in question. He presses his lips into a thin line before saying, "This will probably sound incredibly selfish, but…" Felicity furrows her brow as he sprawls one hand across her lower back, the other cupping her face. He stares at her, his thumb tracing her cheek. "I want you to know that whatever experiences you had to go through, I'm glad that you did."

Emotion chokes her.

"Because they shaped the person you are today." Oliver smiles. "And you know how I feel about her."

His words wash over her, through her, and she lets them. They cast away the residual darkness, leaving her feeling scrubbed clean. He's not trying to make it better, he's doing something she didn't even realize she needed - he's telling her that even though it sucks, it made her who she is. And he likes that person. It's an acceptance that's bone-deep, and it makes her heart swell with love for him.

Felicity bites her lip, a pleased flush skating over her cheeks as she leans into his touch, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"The same thing applies to you, you know," she whispers.

Oliver's face tightens slightly, but he doesn't try to hide it. He's trying to be just as open as she was. Instead, he gives her a simple nod, a smile, and then he kisses her.

It's gentle, and it resonates deep within her.

Felicity hums when they part. She presses her forehead to his for a moment before finally stepping back. She doesn't let him go though, keeping her fingers tangled with his, pulling him with her as they wordlessly turn back to the wine racks. She's pretty sure neither of them are really looking at the bottles anymore, but there's something comforting in the movement, both of them content to just be with each other.

They make their way to the next aisle, which is wider, like a row was removed, and in its place is a long, low table. The wood is clean, dust-free just like the bottles, and Felicity runs her free hand over it as she looks at the wine.

"Since we're on the subject of exes," Felicity says, segueing. She stops, looking at Oliver. "How'd it go with Laurel this morning?"

"It went fine." Oliver's eyes dance over the wine. "Better than I thought it would, to be honest. She was shocked," he adds, "when I told her Ellie was from the future."

"That isn't something that generally comes up in casual conversation." Felicity pauses. "Unless you're us."

Oliver smiles at that before his eyes glaze over, like he's back in the room with Laurel.

"It was interesting," he says. "For one reason, at least."

"What?" Felicity whispers when he doesn't continue right away.

"When I saw how she reacted, I just… I never…" Oliver looks at her. "I always felt like there was this weird inevitability between Laurel and me. Like our lives were on a specific path, and we were going to follow it no matter what. She felt it, too, and she…" He laughs dryly. "She was far more ready for it than I ever was. Even though it felt like it was written in stone, I knew it wasn't for me. Some part of me never wanted that future with her. And I ran. Every single time, I always ran. And if I wasn't running, I was doing something to sabotage it, anything to push her away, to push that future away, because I knew it wasn't what I wanted, even if I wasn't willing to face it."

Oliver looks at her and her eyes widen at the bright intensity in his eyes as his gaze bores into her.

"But with you, Felicity… even before we knew about Ellie, before I knew that I could ever have a future with you, that I could even be happy at all… I knew. I knew that you were it for me."

Whoa.

Felicity takes a shaky breath, and she doesn't realize that her eyes are filling with tears until she blinks, almost sending one falling down her cheek.

Oliver pulls her into his arms again, wrapping her up until there's nothing left but them.

"Something I learned on the island…" he whispers. Her heart skips for an entirely different reason - he never, ever volunteers information about the island. Ever. "I had to learn to trust my gut. I had to learn to listen to my instincts, follow them, something I wasn't very good at before the Gambit went down. Obviously."

A ghost of a smile tugs at her lips, but that's all she manages, transfixed by his eyes.

"I knew the second I met you that I could trust you," Oliver says. "With anything. That's why I kept going back to you. I didn't think about it at the time. All I knew was that there was a little voice in the back of my head, the same voice that had saved my life more times than I can count, and it was telling me that you were a safe haven. That you were my safe haven. And you are, Felicity. I've never felt as safe as I do when I'm around you, and that is just… it's a feeling I never really thought I'd ever have, not ever."

Felicity freezes, pure elation and amazement filling her.

Oliver chuckles as he shakes his head. "I didn't even know what it was at first, I didn't recognize it, until I realized I only felt that way around you." He lets out a sharp breath, his face growing somber. "I can't be grateful that Zoom's chasing Ellie through time, that something evil like that is trying to get my daughter, because I would burn the entire world to ash before I let anything happen to her, to keep her from ever having to face that… but I can't be sorry that it's brought me this. You. My family. And I…" Oliver cups her face. "I don't think I would've ever done anything, Felicity. I know Ellie's existence says we do, but I don't know how I would have ever gotten past myself, because I was so sure that I couldn't have you, that I could never be this happy. That I wasn't allowed this…"

A tiny, joyful sob slips past her lips as Felicity smiles up at him.

"But I am," Oliver finishes. "I am so happy and it's because of you, it's all because of you, and I… I love us. I love you."

"Oh, Oliver," she whispers, the next sound she makes coming out in a mix between a laugh and a sob that has him running his thumbs over her cheeks. "I love you. I love you so much, I can't…"

He doesn't let her finish. It's like the second he hears those magical words, his restraint snaps.

Oliver's mouth covers her, swallowing the rest of her words, his fingers holding her so tightly it hurts, but at the same time she barely feels it. No, all she feels is him where he's pressed against her, and suddenly she can't wait any longer. She doesn't want to.

Felicity pushes herself up onto her toes, needing to get closer, winding her arms around him as she whimpers against his mouth, both of them opening up for the other at the same time.

The need from earlier crashes through both of them, only this time it's so much stronger. It's more demanding, beating a heady drum through Felicity's veins that she's completely powerless against, and it's one that has her suddenly clawing at him, pulling herself closer, pushing her hand into the collar of his shirt, needing to feel more. She needs to feel his skin against hers, his naked skin, and the second that thought pushes into her head, she's moving for his shirt buttons.

Oliver wrenches back with a desperate, "God, Felicity…"

Her lips are swollen and pulsing in time with her heartbeat, blood rushing in her ears. She's not done and she pushes herself up, her lips finding his pulse point. He smells like the soap he'd used earlier and the beginnings of the sweat he builds up after spending hours training… and god, he tastes even better.

Oliver groans, wrapping an arm around her, his other shooting out to find…

The table.

Before she can fully comprehend that, Oliver grips her waist and he lifts her up like she weighs absolutely nothing, making her stomach drop for two totally different reasons - the sudden loss of gravity that leaves her spinning; but the dominating reason is her visceral reaction to his brute strength. It lights up a part of her she didn't think she had… but oh, she does, and it makes her need for him skyrocket as he sets her down, pushing himself between her legs.

Felicity tugs her dress up, nearly ripping the material in her haste. She doesn't take note of the way it tugs at the skin on her thighs - she doesn't care - because she knows the instant she's able to feel him between her thighs again…

He presses himself against her hot core, and she shudders, her head falling back with a harsh, "Ooh…!"

His head falls against her chest, his harsh breathing dancing over her increasingly damp skin, and Oliver pulls her closer to the edge of the table. He thrusts his hips forward, and oh god, she sees stars.

Felicity's hands seek blindly for his hips to urge him even closer. She grasps his shirt into tight fists, rocking against him, making him choke on what might have been her name. He suddenly digs his fingers into her hips, holding her still as he starts a thrusting motion that has her wet panties sliding right against her tender slit.

"Oh… don't stop, Oliver, that's… please…"

God, he's so hard and it's like last night only better.

But she wants more, so much more… and he has the same realization at the same time.

"Damn it," Oliver groans, his hips stilling. He lets out a short laugh and it sounds so uncomfortable and full of restraint that Felicity almost reaches between them and grasps him through his pants. But he's already moving away from her. Felicity watches him, her eyes dropping to his pants - he's hard, and there's a light wet stain from where he'd been rubbing her through her panties. Desire fills her, making her fingertips tingle, and he sees it. Oliver shakes his head, scrubbing his face before saying, "We have to get the hell out of this wine cellar."

"No." Felicity can only shake her head in firm denial. "Or not."

She grabs the front of his shirt and yanks him back between her thighs, her lips falling hard against his as she pulls her legs up, wrapping them around him. Oliver groans desperately, giving as good as she does and soon…

With a shake of his head, Oliver pulls back just enough to whisper, "The first time I have sex with you isn't going to be on this table, Felicity."

"I don't care where we are," Felicity replies hurriedly, kissing him again. He whimpers, giving in… but then he pulls back again. "Oliver." He pulls his hands off her and they land with heavy thuds on each side of her hips, his muscles coiling, like he refuses to move. Felicity reaches up to cup his face. "I don't need a bed, Oliver, you are enough… wherever we are. You are so, so much more than enough."

"Felicity, let me…" His voice is full of the same desperation she feels. She leans forward, her lips brushing over his. "I want it to be perfect, and this…"

"Anything with you is perfect," she replies. "Anything."

Oliver groans again and his hands squeak against the table, like he's fighting himself from grabbing her.

"I need it," he rasps. "I need to see you sprawled out on a bedspread, your hair… spread out, and…"

She huffs out a little chuckle - who knew it was Oliver Queen who would be the hopeless romantic between them?

"I think we'll have time for that, you know," she replies, her voice lowering at the heady thought. Her eyes drop to his mouth, her thumb running over his bottom lip. "This is just the beginning, Oliver."

A helpless grin pulls at his lips and he nods. But he's not swayed, not even a little. He doesn't say anything as his forehead falls against hers… and then, like they have a life of their own, his hands find her thighs. Her very naked thighs.

Felicity forgets how to breathe, her muscles twitching like he'd just shot an electrical current through her. His fingers start moving, up… up… drifting over the surface of her skin and they both look down, watching their progression.

Her skirt is bunched up around her hips in a haphazard mess, her thighs creamy in comparison to the dark material. Her legs are spread open, just as much as they can be where her knees are glued to his hips.

"I want to take my time," Oliver whispers.

Felicity shudders. His fingers brush against her outer thighs, making her legs clench around him before he moves them up. They mirror each other, doing the same thing to each leg, driving her absolutely crazy. His fingers slowly make their way down…

"Oliver…"

"I want to…" he continues, ignoring her as his fingers brush her inner thighs, "kiss every inch of you… taste every inch…"

Felicity moans.

Oliver doesn't give her a chance to do more before he's pulling back, one hand cupping the side of her neck, urging her to look at him as he slips the other between her legs.

The instant their eyes meet, his hand moves just enough so his fingers graze the front of her panties. She jerks - it's not a lot, and it shouldn't feel like a lot, but it does, and it's more than enough to send a sharp streak of pleasure straight to her core. His eyes darken with something carnal that she feels in her bones and she wants more.

Felicity's too far gone to appreciate that he's waiting for her, like he wants to make sure what he's doing is okay, like he wants her to dictate how this goes, not the other way around… but she's just too far gone.

She reaches for him mindlessly, grabbing his shoulder, digging her nails into his muscle as her other hand joins his, pushing his hand closer.

The instant his fingers press solidly against her, Felicity cries out, the sound quickly dissolving into a low moan. It's shockingly more erotic feeling his hand move against hers, knowing how he's touching her and that she's holding him to her wet sex, urging him on, encouraging him.

She's so incredibly sensitive, from the constant back-and-forth after last night, the heightened need, the damn life or death thing that keeps rearing its stupid, ugly head… she's so sensitive and ready - she's been ready, from the second he'd asked her if she was okay earlier.

Felicity spreads her legs, her eyes never leaving his as she pushes his hand further between her thighs. It's so intimate, powerful - intense, and she quickly loses track of anything but his fingers stiffening slightly as he presses them more firmly against her soaked panties. Her hips rock, sending his fingers sliding right over her clit.

"Yes," she whimpers, nodding rapidly. "Yes, yes, yes." Her eyes flutter shut, nearly closing, but she keeps them open, because she can't look away from him. She doesn't want to. There's something about the way he's watching her, like he's been dying of thirst and he's suddenly found water. She feels like he might consume her whole.

Oliver pushes his hand closer until it's flush against her. His palm is so hot and hard, and she feels it perfectly through her thin panties. He curls his fingers slightly, slipping over her clenching entrance, and she gasps as they touch the tender nerves there, making her inner walls squeeze tightly.

She actually aches to feel him between her legs, filling her.

Oliver keeps his hand there, letting her ride him. He moves, so slowly it's torture, testing her reactions, seeing what she likes.

It's amazing and divine and erotic and intense and hot and she can't breathe but she doesn't care… and when he pushes his hand further down, the heel of his hand is perfectly level with her clit.

"Oh god!" she cries, her hips jerking against him. "Right there, right there!"

Felicity grips his hand to keep him still and grinds down on him, something dark and heavy starting to coil deep inside her. It's hot, a growing fire, spreading through her body at a pace she can't keep up with. Her hips rock against him, her eyes never leaving his - she's so incredibly vulnerable, baring everything for him… wanting him to see it all.

It only heightens her pleasure, taking her to a level that's beyond physical.

Oliver leans in closer. He's whispering something she can't hear over the roar in her ears. He curls his fingers again, but this time he presses them up through her panties and they slide between her nether lips. The pressure of his hand alone had been enough to make her dissolve into a quivering mass of want, but the feel of his roughened fingertips sliding against her needy flesh...

"Yes, yes… Oliver…"

Felicity's back arches, her hips moving faster, his hand meeting her thrusts as they hold on to each other.

She's so close…

Her thighs start to tremble from the intensity of the orgasm building, her muscles coiling in preparation.

"Don't stop, don't stop," she gasps, over and over, and just as she reaches her peak, the pleasure spiking so harshly it leaves her breathless, she cries out his name, loud enough that it echoes through the wine cellar… and then time suspends for a split second. She's suddenly aware of everything, from the woodsy smell of the wine racks, the combination of their sweat, his hot skin through his dress shirt where she's holding onto his shoulder, his hand gripping the side of her neck, his eyes never leaving hers, his lips moving as he whispers her name like a litany, his brow twisting in concentration and his own need…

It all amplifies the intimacy of the moment to astounding levels…

Felicity breaks.

A breathless scream rips out of her as she comes, pleasure shooting through her, carving her from the inside out. It sends her soaring just as much as it pulls her under, and the last thing she's aware of for those blissful seconds is Oliver catching her as she collapses and his whispered, "I love you…"

She isn't sure how much times passes, but when she finally opens her eyes, she finds her face pressed into his neck, her fingers curled into his shirt, his arms wrapped around her.

"Wow," she gasps. She takes a breath, and even that is exhausting but it feels so good to breathe. "That was… wow."

"You okay?" he asks, pressing a wet kiss to her temple.

She laughs, a disbelieving little giggle that says everything she can't put into words just yet. "Yes. Yes, oh yes, I am… definitely okay."

Oliver chuckles. His hand slips up to cup her jaw, turning her face up to his. He kisses her, and it's soft and gentle and perfect. She sits up, using him to prop herself upright, her arms shaking slightly, like her bones have liquefied.

She shakes her head - because wow, that was intense and she had no idea it was going to be like that and what in the world was it going to be like when they actually had sex?

"Amazing," Oliver responds, kissing her again, stopping her from commenting about how the orgasm effectively removed her brain filter.

It's only after he pulls back, his hands still on her - probably because she looks as unsteady as she feels - that she realizes his stiff erection is still pressing against her thigh. And oh, that has a dark pleasure coiling right in her core.

Felicity licks her lips and raises an eyebrow, slipping her finger into the waistband of his slacks. "I think there's something else we have to do…"

"Oh no." Oliver grabs her hand, shaking his head. "I don't want to come in my pants again."

The open honesty and bluntness makes her grin. "I could take that as a compliment, you know."

"You should."

"But…" She moves for his pants again. "I wasn't thinking about in your pants, Oliver."

"Felicity…" He sucks in a quick breath, his face going slack with lust, his pupils dilating so quickly… but then he's reeling himself back in. Oliver grabs her hand and gives her a quick hard kiss. "The next time I come, I want to be inside you."

If Felicity had honestly thought for one second that she wouldn't be ready to go again for at least a few minutes, she was wrong.

Very. Wrong.

Need whips through her, just as strong as before - no, stronger, because she's gotten even more of a taste of what it's like…

"And besides… I still owe you a date."

Date.

Felicity's heart flutters and she smiles. "That's right. Our last first date ever."

"Our last first date ever," Oliver repeats, grinning, as if he likes how those words taste. "Let's get the wine…" A kiss… "Some candles…" Kiss. "Some food…" He gives her one more kiss before finishing with, "And then let's go check on our daughter."

She will never get sick of hearing the phrase 'our daughter' on his lips.

"That sounds perfect," Felicity replies.

A thrill of exhilaration sweeps through her at the thought of seeing Ellie, which is downright ridiculous, but she can't help it. She wants to sweep her up into her arms and rain kisses all over her until she's letting out that adorable little giggle of hers. It would turn into a sharp squeal full of joy because Felicity can see Oliver wrapping his arms around both of them, trying to kiss both their cheeks at the same time.

It's amazing how perfectly she can picture that.

Oliver gives her one more lingering kiss before he helps her off the table.

It takes Felicity a little too long to get her sea legs back and she holds onto Oliver a little longer than she intended - that's a damn lie - but he doesn't complain. Instead, he smoothes her hair down, gazing at her, his face softening. He's just as rumpled and unkempt as she is, his lips swollen from her kisses, his cheeks flushed, but at the same time… he's relaxed, almost nonchalant. It's slightly mind-boggling considering what they'd just done - really, considering she was the only one who'd gotten off.

He looks completely content, like everything in his world is right, and it makes her emotional.

For a long minute, they stay right there, holding each other.

Oliver runs his fingers through her loose ponytail before he cups her face. Two thoughts pop into Felicity's head: one, she's going to have to re-do her hair again, and two, she can smell herself on him. That last one has another swift kick of need sparking in her chest and she grabs the collar of his shirt, pushing herself up onto her toes, finding his lips.

It's another several minutes before they finally pick two random bottles of wine and make their way upstairs.

 


 

 

The happy shrieks they'd walked away from are gone when they leave the wine cellar. It makes Felicity's heart jump, despite herself. It's entirely irrational, and she knows it, because they'd been down there for…

"What time is it?" Felicity asks. The sun has risen even higher in the sky, blasting through the open windows, flooding the hallway with light… a hallway with no clocks that she can see. An entire house full of things that are probably priceless and there isn't even a clock. It's like they want people disoriented, lost in the luxury. The thought isn't completely out there; she wouldn't put something like that past Moira Queen.

They're each holding a bottle of wine, and Oliver transfers his so he can lace his fingers through hers, his eyes instantly finding a tiny desk clock in one of the rooms they stroll past.

"It's a little past two."

Wow, they'd been down there for almost an hour. It definitely hadn't felt that long.

And the house is eerily quiet.

Oliver shakes his head, like he can read her thoughts, and tugs her closer. "Everything's fine."

Felicity's first reaction is, 'How do you know that?' but she bites her tongue, because some part of her recognizes that she's freaking out just to freak out. They've been gone for a while, and now the house is silent, which is different from what they'd left. And she also just really, really wants to see her daughter. That's all.

"I know," she replies. "They could be anywhere, and we would've heard something, right? We weren't that far, although we were a little distracted and…" The stupid thought that maybe while she was making so much noise downstairs, someone up here might have screamed stomps through her head and she makes a quick, "Gah!" sound. She closes her eyes, letting her head drop on his shoulder. "I'm freaking out."

"You're freaking out."

"I can't believe how much I need to see her," Felicity admits. Oliver manages a soft, "Me too," before she's continuing, "And I'm kinda wondering if some of this is just me needing to see her to make sure she still remembers me. Which…" Felicity says, cutting him off when she feels his muscles tense, "I know is ridiculous. But it's still there. Because I'm a crazy person."

"No, I think I know what you're saying."

"It's like… it's hard to go from zero to sixty, and when I'm away from her, I realize how hard that is. We missed those years where we almost literally could not let her out of our sight because she was so incredibly helpless. Not that she isn't helpless now - I mean, she is scary agile and smart for a three-year-old. But before, there was the… bonding period." Felicity purses her lips. "We didn't get that."

"I feel a little cheated too," Oliver says, laying a quiet smile on her. She looks at him, and she sees the same weird sadness she's feeling lining his face. "We missed a lot."

"And it's even weirder because we technically didn't, you know? It's not like we did this on purpose or on accident or anything. Because we didn't even know she existed a few days ago. Still…"

"You know what I think?" Oliver asks as they reach the kitchen. "I think trying to make sense of a situation that involves time travelling toddlers is a little useless."

Felicity snorts, pushing through the kitchen door. "Like that's gonna stop me."

Oliver chuckles as they both step in. Felicity's eyes instantly whip around the open space, looking for any sign of her daughter, but the only person in there is Raisa, who looks up from where she's cutting vegetables at the kitchen island.

"Miss Felicity and Mr. Oliver, hello."

"Hi, Raisa," Oliver replies as he takes the wine bottle Felicity was holding from her numb fingers and before he can finish, "Have you seen…" Raisa cuts him off.

"They're in the sitting room, watching television," the older woman says, a knowing smile on her face. Her eyes are on Felicity and when she turns to give her a grateful smile, Raisa raises a hand to stop her. "I completely understand, Miss Felicity."

"Thank you," she breathes.

Oliver's hand grazes her lower back. "You wanna go check on her, and I'll be right behind you?"

"Yes," Felicity says with an eagerness that makes Oliver grin. She turns to him for a quick kiss. "You get the food and I'll get the baby. Well, I won't get her, but I'll check on her. And she's not exactly a baby is she? But she is my baby, and…"

"Felicity," Oliver says before cutting her off with another chaste kiss. "Go."

"Right. Going."

With one last kiss - because she can't not kiss that man, it's quickly climbing her list of impossible things to not do - Felicity makes her way out of the kitchen. Raisa and Oliver's fading voices follow her out, Oliver asking her if there's anything quick and easy that he can take with him… but soon enough, his voice is gone and Felicity is drawn to the sitting room like it's the center of gravity. Which it is. Because that's where her daughter is, and it's only when she's away from her that Felicity really understands the power of that.

She's barely had her in her life, but Felicity already knows that Ellie is her entire world. Oliver is - and always will be - right up there, but nothing compares to her child, and maybe it's because of everything she's gone through, but it's especially strong right now, so strong that she walks a little faster.

The first thing Felicity sees when she enters the sitting room is that someone's drawn the curtains, casting the room in low glow that, thankfully, is less sinister than it is heartwarming. And it matches the scene that she walks up on. It takes Felicity all of one second to analyze the room, to see that Sara isn't there, but that Lyla has appeared - if Felicity wants to get technical, there is a Sara in the room, but she's the size of a bean in her mother's stomach - and she and Diggle are talking softly, barely above the noise coming off the television.

They both stop when they hear her.

"Hi, Lyla," Felicity says, aiming to give the other woman a soft smile, but she only has eyes for Ellie.

In fact, she barely catches Lyla's, "Hey, Felicity," because everything zeroes in on her daughter.

Diggle is half-sprawled out on a sofa, his head pillowed on the back, his legs angled so he's semi-horizontal, enough that the sleeping toddler on his chest has a place to lay.

Felicity bites her lip to keep in the emotional noise that wants to slip out as Diggle looks at her with a small smile on his face.

Ellie's so tiny sprawled across his enormous frame. And the sight of her there settles something in Felicity's heart, takes the edge off of her nerves. Because Ellie is wholly at peace, completely unconcerned with her own safety as she uses Uncle Digg as her mattress, and Felicity can think of nowhere in the world other than Oliver's arms that her little girl might be safer or more secure.

"Hey," Digg greets. He carefully checks his watch before raising an eyebrow. "That was quick. You two don't know how to take a break."

"We were gone for almost an hour," Felicity replies, tiptoeing over to them. Ellie's out like a light, her long hair a riotous mess, her dress wrinkled, a smudge of ice cream dried on her cheek. And she's drooling all over Digg's chest, so much that Felicity can't help but laugh. She leans over and presses a soft kiss to Ellie's temple, smoothing her hair back before wiping the drool away. It's funny that earlier she'd hesitated when she'd seen the tears and dried snot all over Ellie's face after her nightmare, but now, it's like she's been wiping weird stuff off her daughter for her entire life. She doesn't even think twice, she just does it, drying her fingers on her own dress as she says, "You're going to be swimming here real soon, John."

Diggle snorts under his breath, looking down at the little girl. "She gets that from her mother."

Felicity crouches down before them as she says in an affronted whisper, "I do not drool."

"Right. And how many times have I come back to the foundry to find your passed out at your desk?" She moves to answer but Diggle cuts her off again, "And how many times did you wake up and yell at yourself because you didn't want a repeat of that one time you drooled all over your keyboard?"

"That's only happened, like… a few times." He chuckles, making Ellie's little body bounce up and down for a second. Her breathing barely changes; she's completely out. Felicity smiles, running her hand over Ellie's warm little back. It hits her that Moira and Donna are also MIA. "Have you seen my mom?"

Diggle shakes his head. "No, but I think Sara ran into her and Oliver's mom. I heard them talking in the hallway. Sara…" He chuckles. "She more or less explained where you two were and what you were doing, which I'm sure had them running in the opposite direction. I'm not sure where they are right now."

Felicity nods, choosing not to think about the fact that their mothers have disturbingly become instant Odd Couple-style bosom buddies or that Sara very likely implied heavily that they were doing… almost exactly what they'd been doing, actually.

Instead, she smiles down at Ellie, who doesn't stir. "I see that sugar came back with a vengeance."

"It did," Diggle agrees. He shifts, settling more into the sofa before raising an eyebrow at Felicity. "All the more reason for you to get the hell out of here."

Felicity blinks at the sudden dismissal. "What?"

He nods to the door she just came through. "Go find that brooding fool of yours and enjoy the free babysitting."

"Digg-"

"Felicity," Diggle says, his tone a weird mix of exasperation and understanding. "If there is one thing that I've learned about being with someone when the stakes are so high that you can't tell up from down…" His eyes switch to Lyla with a knowing look that's so intimate and personal that Felicity almost looks away. "It's that you have to take those small moments. You have to appreciate them, because it's those few seconds that make all the damn drama later worth it." He looks at Felicity pointedly. "So get the hell out of here."

"Such a romantic, Johnny," Lyla adds.

"It worked for you, didn't it?" Diggle asks with a smirk, which makes Lyla huff out a soft, "Ha," which tells Felicity everything she needs to know about the meaning behind Diggle's words.

They met in a literal war zone, fell in love in one, got married in one, and from the few tidbits she's managed to get out of Diggle, the second things slowed down, they'd both realized they didn't know how to be with each other without a war. This was his way of telling her that while they took the long way to get there, he discovered that there is a way to beat that, to get around that, to rise above that. Because while she and Oliver have known each other for so long and have already shared so much, coming together like they have in the last few days… well, either they can take the route John and Lyla did, or they can go another one.

He's a strong advocate for another route.

"You're right," Felicity resolves. "You're very right."

"Of course I am. Aren't I always?" Diggle replies. Both Lyla and Felicity smack him at that and he lets out a plaintive, "Ow."

Felicity shakes her head at him, her eyes finding Ellie, before remembering the rest of the fun stuff that's happened. She turns to Lyla with a bright, "Congratulations. About the baby."

Lyla's eyes widen, like she's still not used to people knowing - which is understandable considering everyone basically told her that she was pregnant, thanks to a child from the future - but she still smiles. "Thank you. You too." Felicity's whole body damned near spasms because what? Lyla tilts her head toward Ellie and… well, yeah, congratulations to her new baby, too. "This isn't exactly how I pictured telling everyone… although I do like what it's done to the big guy here."

Diggle's brow furrows. "What's that?"

"You've gone green every single time we've talked about this," Lyla says with a wry smile, her hand patting her stomach. "It's like hearing Ellie talk about her has made it more real. Now he's completely relaxed, where before he spent most of the time hyperventilating."

"I wasn't hyperventilating," Digg argues. "I was… preparing myself for running after a baby."

Lyla laughs, shaking her head at him as she reaches over to pat his thigh. "Okay, Johnny. Sure."

"I was. Babies are fast."

"Hey."

Oliver.

Felicity looks up just as he comes up behind her. She hadn't even heard him come in. He nods to Lyla and then Digg before his eyes find Ellie. The way his face softens makes Felicity's heart melt as his hand finds Felicity's shoulder before he leans over, dropping a soft kiss on Ellie's back. The toddler doesn't even move, but she does let out a heavier exhale, one that almost sounds like a little snore. It's so damn cute.

Felicity looks up just as Oliver looks at her.

The sudden intensity in his eyes has her heart skipping a beat. She blinks, her stomach dropping, but just as quickly as it's there it's gone and he's looking back to Diggle.

"Everything okay?" Oliver asks.

"Yes," Diggle replies with exaggerated patience. "And look…" Without jostling Ellie too much, Diggle reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, waving it at them both. "I've already got something queued up to send you if anything does go south. Which it won't," he adds when he sees Felicity's face fall. "Lyla's here and Sara, too."

"We've got you guys," Sara says from behind them. Felicity jumps. She hadn't heard her either. Honestly, people were too light on their feet around here. Sara walks up, smiling at Ellie's sleeping form. "And we've got the munchkin. Get out of here."

"Get the hell out of here," Diggle amends.

A half-smile lights Oliver's face at that, his eyes finding Sara's. They share a look, one that says way more than what Felicity had just heard. Had they both come from the kitchen?

"Come on," Oliver says as he stands, offering Felicity his hand. She takes it and he pulls her up with him. He smiles at Diggle, and then Sara, and then Lyla. "Thank you, guys."

"Yeah, yeah," Sara says, rolling her eyes as she waves them. "Now go."

"We're going, we're going," Oliver says just as Felicity starts, "If anything-"

"Oh my god, you guys are horrible," Sara interrupts with a laugh. "We know."

Felicity and Oliver move at the same time, both of them touching Ellie's back. The little girl finally shifts, but it's just to scrunch her face up, her hand curling into a fist that she uses to rub her nose before she's still again.

"Bye, baby," Felicity whispers, earning a charmed smile from Diggle, a soft look from Lyla and a wave from Sara.

Oliver grabs Felicity's hand, and they finally leave.

When they reach the hallway, Felicity spots a large basket sitting in the middle of the floor. She can't help the dopey grin that crosses her face. He wasn't kidding about the picnic. An actual picnic. With a picnic basket. Who even owns a picnic basket? Excitement bubbles to life inside her all over again as Oliver picks it up.

"So where exactly are we going for our date?" Felicity asks.

His response is to give her a kiss. Felicity expects it to be a quick, simple one, a headway into what will probably be the best first date of her entire life, but it isn't quick, nor is it simple.

The second his lips touch hers, everything falls away but the feel of him pressed against her and suddenly they're back in the wine cellar, when the only thing that existed was the insistent need that made her feel like she was burning from the inside out.

Oliver tugs her closer, wrapping his free arm around her, his large hand splaying across her lower back before he makes a tight fist in her dress as he holds her, leaning her back in his arms like he's dipping her.

She's never felt safer in her entire life.

When they finally break apart, Felicity is more than a little dazed.

"Oh… kay then. So…"

"I think we should go upstairs," Oliver says. "To our room."

A flood of nerves sets off her heart and Felicity's nodding before she can think twice.

"Upstairs is good. Upstairs is very… very good."

 


 

 

The second their door falls shut behind them, the latch sliding into place with a resounding click, they both pause.

It's the first time they've ever been alone in this room. They've always had Ellie with them, whether she'd been cocooned between them in the bed or sacked out in front of the television or hidden away in her pillow castle, it's never just been them.

The room suddenly seems bigger and his eyes sweep over it for a quick second - from the cushionless sofa and the abandoned afghan in front of the television, to one of Ellie's socks on the floor and the pillow castle still standing strong. The remnants of activity and life that this room has never, ever seen prior to Ellie are scattered everywhere. He looks all around before his eyes land on the bed. The very rumpled, well-used bed with its white sheets and mountain of pillows that are still pushed together, like even in their sleep he and Felicity didn't want to let go.

Felicity shuffles next to him, drawing his attention again. She's idly playing with a nail on one of her pinkies, chewing on her lip as she stares at the bed as well. Oliver suddenly finds himself very, very aware of his fingers slowly growing numb where he's clutching the picnic basket.

They'd been fine coming up the stairs, their hands tangled together, both of them smiling. Felicity had leaned over to kiss his shoulder, prompting him to pull her close enough to return the favor - on her lips - but she'd shifted at the last second, leading to him giving her a wet kiss on the nose. They'd even been great making their way down the hall, but now… now that they're in the room, the door shut behind them…

It's suddenly more real.

Because it's not just their first date anymore, it's more. So, so much more.

Oliver's chest feels very, very full as he chews on the tip of his tongue.

When the silence becomes too much, he opens his mouth to say… nothing, because Felicity's grasping his arm, using him for balance as she reaches down to remove her heels. His eyes follow the lines of her body, watching her do the simple task, his jaw snapping shut. It's so easy, so natural, something she does every single day… but not here. She doesn't do that here… until now. In their room. Felicity tosses the heels in a haphazard pile next to the door - the casualness in her movements makes his heart flutter; he loves how comfortable she is already, treating it like it's her space as well, which it is - before she looks at him.

For reasons he can't even begin to fathom, her being so much shorter, looking up at him through her lashes, the light from the windows emphasizing the bright sheen in her eyes… it sends a sharp surge of need through him and he almost drops the basket, grabbing her right then and there.

He'd just about lost it downstairs. Many times. Many, many times. The reality of touching her of his own volition - knowing he could wrap his arms around her, could kiss her lips, her neck, her shoulders, her hands, her fingers… anywhere… it'd hit him harder than he thought it would. It hadn't been until he was alone with her in a dark space, a trail of nerves making her tremble against him, that he'd realized just how wholly she affects him.

She takes over everything. It isn't even a question anymore, she just does. He'd thought it'd been bad before, when he couldn't have her? Oh no, it had been so much worse knowing he could and telling himself, 'Not yet.' It'd taken far more self-control than he thought he'd possessed to reel it in, but he had stopped, the need to make it more meaningful - more special - taking precedence.

That is until they'd inadvertently tripped into their separate pasts, which had only made that single moment so much more powerful.

He'd been right on the brink, Felicity's words rattling through his head…

"I don't care where we are. I don't need a bed, Oliver, you are enough… wherever we are, you are so, so more than enough."

He'd been so close…

"Anything with you is perfect. Anything."

Her words themselves were more effective than any aphrodisiac in the world, and he'd almost given in… until he'd pushed his hand between her thighs.

It was like part of him had faded into the background, everything instantly becoming about her.

That still blows his mind - he'd damn near ripped a hole in the front of his pants with how hard he was, how eager and ready and excited he had been - but when he'd heard her desperate gasp, felt her nails digging into him, urging him closer, the pleasure he was giving her reflecting back at him, that had all disappeared, and it'd only been about her. He'd thought for sure when he pushed it that far, when he touched her like that, that he would fall apart right along with her, but he hadn't. Oliver had never felt anything like that before, that driving need to please. He'd always thought he was generous in bed, never taking without giving, but downstairs, swimming in the knowledge that she was flying apart because of him… it'd been powerful.

Addicting.

What they'd shared in the gym had been different, totally fueled by a wild desperate emotion, more about finding that release and breaking the tension that'd been living between them for so long, the tension that had only grown after learning about Ellie, after Slade's attack, after the news broke with the supposed scandal of his secret family…

The wine cellar had been pure intent, and he wants to do it again, and again, and again…

Oliver forces himself to swallow, need making him harden, pushing painfully against the seam of his slacks - a sudden urgent reminder that he hadn't reached any release whatsoever, in spite of the tremendous enjoyment he'd taken in pleasing her.

He bites the tip of his tongue just enough to hurt, forcing himself back to the moment right before his brain veers wildly off course - he suddenly remembers with perfect clarity licking his finger in the kitchen to grab some napkins, instantly smelling traces of her arousal all over his hand.

God, to feel her without anything between them… she'd been so wet, soaking through her panties, his fingers gliding against her so effortlessly, pushing her higher and higher…

It suddenly occurs to him that Felicity had said something.

He blinks. "Sorry, what?"

Felicity's eyebrows tick up slightly, her lips tightening like she's fighting a smile. "I'm gonna go freshen up."

"Uh… right. Okay," Oliver replies, nodding dumbly. "Yeah."

And then she does smile, a slow one that pulls at her lips before she disappears into the bathroom. As that door softly clicks into place, Oliver finds himself staring after her… for who the hell knows how long until he finally shakes himself out of it.

Freshen up.

This is really happening.

Their date. Their last first date ever.

And then…

Something burns low in his stomach, his eyes flying back to the bed before he forces himself to move. To do anything but stand there like a total jackass. Oliver toes his shoes off, going out of his way to make sure they're placed by Felicity's - the domesticity of it pulls at his heart - before he quickly scans the room again, looking for the perfect spot…

There.

Right in front of one of the large picture windows. Their room faces the east, the sun already nestled on the other side of the sky, beating its heavy rays against the opposite end of the house, leaving plenty of light without the stifling heat and providing a sprawling view that includes Starling City in the distance.

Oliver makes his way around the sofa, careful to leave the pillow castle untouched - he knows, without a single doubt, that Ellie would pick up on it instantly if anything was changed in her little kingdom - and sets the basket down. Even without the sun shining in, the room is still stuffy, a little too hot… or is that just him?

He cracks a window open, letting in a light breeze that fills his lungs… and he realizes at that exact moment that his damn hands are shaking. Because he's nervous. About his date. With Felicity.

Their last first date, ever.

He's taking Felicity on her last first date ever - him. The sense of rightness, the pride he feels at that thought has him smiling, closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, practically basking… before he turns back to the room. His ears prick, hearing Felicity in the bathroom, and he moves a little quicker.

Tapping his palms against his thighs as he moves, Oliver grabs the rich red throw he'd snagged from one of the linen closets downstairs and with a flick of his wrist, he spreads it out across the floor, creating their picnic spot. His hands are still shaking, a steady stream of nerves clamoring for attention, but he only holds the blanket tighter. There's a new energy in him, a new nervousness that wasn't there before, but it's nothing that makes his skin crawl with anxiety, nothing that makes him think twice.

No, this is excitement, a living, breathing anticipation that's making him feel like his limbs are going to vibrate right off his body.

It feels official now, like the fact that they are deliberately taking time for just them - to go on a date and undoubtedly so much more - has given the entire thing a legitimacy that hadn't been there before.

He cannot wait.

Oliver unpacks the basket, arranging the items in what he hopes is a semi-aesthetically pleasing way. There hadn't been much to choose from as far as things that didn't require cooking, but he'd managed to collect some cheeses and meats that Raisa had found for him, along with some fruit and crackers. It's not much, and it does nothing to appease the weird urge he has to cook something for her - anything, really, although he has to wonder how she'd feel knowing the only thing he really knows how to make is a mean grilled cheese - even if according to Ellie he does that very thing for them in the future.

The thought of cooking for his family - providing for them - it settles something primal deep inside him while simultaneously fueling his desire to make this even more perfect.

Oliver opens one of the wine bottles, carefully setting it out by the tall wine glasses, and when he steps back, the entire thing reminds him of a poor-man's wine magazine cover. Which, oddly enough, only makes it more perfect. Because it's them and he knows with absolute certainty that this is all they need. Some part of him wants to go through all the bells and whistles, wants to take her out, treat her, but that's not for right now. One, the idea of leaving Ellie somewhere in the house was still something he was struggling with, so actually leaving her to go somewhere? Hell. No. And two, things have moved so fast, and so much has happened, it'd be a distraction, going somewhere right now, a distraction they don't need because they've already skipped more than a few steps.

No, all he needs is somewhere quiet and safe with the beautiful woman who completes him in ways he didn't even know he needed, who looks at him like he can save the entire world and makes him believe it.

Oliver smiles as he continues setting up. She's always done that, looked at him with such steadfast belief, a surety in her eyes that's unwavering. Felicity has never once hesitated in her faith in him, no matter what. In fact, even at his weakest, even when he feels broken and unworthy, her conviction only grows stronger. But now… now he's not shying away from it. He knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one day he reaches a point where he can have the kind of life he'd never thought he'd get, that he does have it, a future of happiness, a family - Felicity, a daughter… an unborn son.

It makes him feel like he's a hundred feet tall, because of Felicity… and because of Ellie, because their future selves send her back here, to this time…

The memory is a stark reminder of why and how they are where they are, of the unsettling fact that they have no idea how long this will last, when Zoom will attack next, what's happening in the future, if their actions are changing things, if…

Oliver stops himself, clenching his jaw.

Sara's words ring through his head from earlier, when she'd found him and Raisa in the kitchen after doing a quick trek through the house. After asking why they were back so fast - and after making a cute comment about his stamina which had had him both glaring and blushing because Raisa had been right there - he'd responded with, "Just checking on Ellie." Sara had paused, staring at him before sighing.

"Oliver, you know better than anyone how quickly things can change. We both do. So cherish it. Cherish her. Because when those things do change - and they will - it's these moments that you'll remember. You can't live your life worried about the what-if's, especially with a kid.

"You're getting a moment, Ollie. So take it."

Once everything's settled, Oliver stands, leaving the candles he'd stashed in the basket alone - there's ambiance and then there's being ridiculous. It's not like he can set the mood with the sunlight making everything already glow around them.

That's for later.

Later.

And just like that, excitement washes through him again. He can't wait for all the laters they have in their future.

Oliver surveys the spread, wiping his hands on his slacks. He glances down at himself - he should change.

He moves to the closet, dodging items in the room as he tugs his dress shirt off, quickly followed by his undershirt, when Felicity opens the bathroom door.

She stops dead in her tracks, her mouth forming a little 'o' as her eyes dart down, soaking in the sight of him shirtless. He feels her gaze like she's right next to him, touching him, and he wonders if she feels the same because a light flush colors her cheeks all over again as he lets his shirts fall to the ground. She looks softer than a minute ago, her skin more pink, and he finds himself wondering if she'd washed her face. He can't tell if it's the light in the room or what, but she's glowing.

He's almost positive it's just her.

She's beautiful.

"Hi," she breathes, licking her lips. Her eyes are still on his chest, and they stay there for a long moment before she meets his gaze again. And then a deep blush covers her neck and chest as she abruptly shakes her head, her mouth moving without sound, like she's just realized that she's stood there for a solid minute doing nothing but staring at him. He smiles as she waves at the closet. "I was going to change. Into something else. Date-y. Something date-y."

"Me too."

Neither of them move. It strikes him that this is probably ridiculous, considering what they'd just done, but still… there's a new buzz between them, a new awareness that wasn't there before.

She feels it too.

Felicity takes a slow breath, pressing her lips into a gentle line, her eyes on him… and then she bites her bottom lip. It draws his eyes like a moth to a flame. The air thickens, making it hard to breathe, his lungs tightening as he stares at her mouth, remembering very, very well how she tastes… the way she draws his name out, her mouth parted in a little pant, her lips red and swollen… how she gasps when his stubble touches her… and what those little noises she makes sound like when they're muffled by his lips as he cups her face, holding her.

His hands actually ache to touch her again, to feel her smooth skin warming under his touch.

As Felicity's breath stutters - it's her turn to feel his gaze like it's his touch - his eyes drop, following the long line of her neck, which is perfectly bare, her hair still up. He wants to discover which parts make her melt, which areas he can lick and suck, learn the things she likes, determine what makes her cry out the loudest.

Her breath starts coming quicker, as if she can read his thoughts on his face - and maybe she can; his intent is so heavy he feels like he's already touching her. The quick movements have her breasts moving inside her dress… it's not just her neck he hasn't really explored yet, it's there too. He's barely felt the beginnings of how responsive she is, how hard her nipples can get. What would she do if he sucked one into his mouth? If his fingers found her other one…

Oliver aches to touch her again.

Felicity swallows hard and his eyes fly back up to watch the movement - who knew something so simple could be so insanely erotic?

She whispers his name, not moving from her spot as her hands slowly come up. She presses them to her stomach and he stops breathing.

This isn't… no, this isn't how he wants it to go, not like this, not so fast. He wants to take his time, he wants to woo her and… and… If they aren't careful, things aren't going to go anywhere near as slow as he wants them to… and the problem with that is that he doesn't care. Because they're here, in their space, in what has become home to both of them, and it makes him feel so safe and secure, like nothing bad can touch them here, not as long as they have each other.

Her cheeks grow pinker, her eyes brightening even more - she's stunning, just as affected as he is, and that is the best feeling in the entire world. This is the moment, a moment for just them, and they aren't about to waste a single second more than they already have.

"Oliver," she breathes. The tension growing between them electrifies the air, dancing along the surface of his skin, making his nerves feel like they're burning. "Can you…"

Felicity turns, looking back at him over her shoulder.

Oh.

"Yeah," he says, the word barely audible, his eyes falling to her zipper.

The idea of undressing her is overwhelming and he thinks he's about to stand there and do nothing, but his body has other ideas. He's moving, closing the distance without having to tell himself to, and he doesn't stop until he's practically flush against her.

Oliver touches her shoulders - she's so warm, responsive, her body moving to meet his, and god, she smells good. Fresh, like she did clean up a bit, and he catches a hint of the perfume she'd used that morning, the coconut shampoo from her shower.

Felicity dips her head forward, her hand snaking up to pull her ponytail out, and he watches her every move, transfixed when her hair falls in soft, gentle waves. He breathes her in as she pulls her hair over her shoulder, giving him access.

He leans closer, his fingers finding the zipper.

Oliver pulls it all the way down, not stopping until he reaches its end, right over the generous roundness of her backside. His eyes linger, and before he can stop himself, he pushes his hand inside her dress, flush against her naked lower back.

"Aah," Felicity gasps, arching as he touches the incredibly sensitive skin. Goosebumps erupt across her skin as she sways closer to him and he watches, fascinated, as they travel up her spine, spreading over the expanse of her back.

She's not wearing a bra.

That realization has desire slamming into him and when he exhales sharply, she feels it. She shivers.

Oliver absently thinks this is the time, this is when he asks if she wants to change, if she wants to continue with their date, if this is too much or too fast, but he doesn't do any of those things. Because he's finally touching her, with the pure, single intent of oh-so-much more, and god, he doesn't want to stop, not for anything.

And yet…

"Felicity…" That single utterance of her name is laced with everything he can't say, because he's afraid if he does…

She nods with a quiet, "Don't stop," that has his heart climbing up his throat.

That's all he needs.

Oliver slowly moves his hand up her back, following her spine. He watches the progression of his fingers, taking his time, not feeling anything but the way her muscles jump under his touch, the way she shivers and twitches, her neck tightening in response to the sensations he's giving her.

When he reaches her shoulder blades, Oliver slips both hands inside her dress, pressing them firmly against her skin. Felicity gasps, her back arching to get closer to him. He watches, captivated. The way her spine curves, how her shoulders press together… it draws him in like nothing else ever has. He doesn't stop. He keeps moving, pushing his hands out, taking the fabric of her dress with him as his hands travel across her upper back, removing her dress as he goes. Oliver pushes the material down her arms… and then his eyes catch sight of her right shoulder.

His fingers falter.

Felicity takes over. She shimmies slightly, the material falling to her waist where she wiggles her hips to remove it all the way…

But he only has eyes for one thing.

Her scar.

From the bullet she'd taken for Sara.

His stomach suddenly burns at the memory - it could have been so much worse, and he knows that, but still, the idea of her taking a bullet rips through him. Oliver runs his fingers over her maligned skin so reverently that he barely feels it the first time. So he does it again. And again. It's bigger than he'd thought, and it's still pink, still healing. She was shot months ago, but it still looks fresh, like it might still hurt if he pressed on it.

As her dress pools at her feet, revealing nothing else but tasteful lace panties and endless expanses of skin, Oliver grasps her shoulders and presses a soft kiss to the spot.

Felicity sighs, turning her head to face him, her hands coming up to cover his. He keeps his lips pressed to her for a long moment, relishing the life pulsating in her, the very evident fact that she's still here - with him - despite her wound. Without warning, Oliver moves, keeping his lips pressed to her in a series of gentle kisses that he lays up the nape of her neck before wrapping his arms around her. He nuzzles his face into her throat, cradling her in his arms, reveling in her warmth.

He closes his eyes, breathing her in.

He'd almost lost her before he really even had her. The thought burns a hole in his chest, so white hot that it takes his breath away. Last week, that would have made him want to run, to push her away, but now he only wants to hold her tighter. He can't lose her, and he won't. If he has to fight a hundred soldiers like Zoom, like Slade… hell, even like Isabel, he will.

Felicity wraps her arms around his, holding him close. "I love you."

"I love you," he replies, his voice muffled against her skin. He tightens his grip. "God, I love you."

"You know," she whispers, and he opens his eyes when he hears the smile in her voice. "You can just call me Felicity."

It takes a second, but the words do exactly what she means for them to do.

Oliver chuckles, shaking his head, whispering, "Hilarious," which has her grinning… and before she can say or do anything else, he pushes his face into her neck, making her yelp.

With a startled giggle, Felicity tries to dodge away from him and the tickle of his scruff against her hypersensitive skin, but he doesn't let her get far. He grips her tighter, pushing his face in, eliciting the laughter that makes him soar.

Her hand flies to the back of his head, gripping a fistful of hair, trying to pull him back, but he's not going anywhere. Not ever.

"Oliver…" Felicity giggles, her voice breathlessly desperate. "Please… stop… please!"

"Okay, okay," he says, finally stopping, leaving her breathing heavy, her chest heaving…

And as if someone has flipped a switch, Oliver's suddenly viciously aware of how very hot her skin is under his touch. She's flushed, her breasts brushing against his bare arm with each gasp for air… and her hand is still in his hair, gripping tightly as she leans back into him, every inch of her pressed against him…

She feels so damn good.

"Felicity…"

Oliver wraps himself around her, finally letting himself look.

She's absolutely stunning. He stares at her, taking her in - her soft breasts, her dusky nipples, the beautiful dark pink a sharp contrast to her creamy skin. They're already hard, aching to be touched, to be licked. He catalogues every little thing, practically memorizing her as his eyes move down, to her panties, to her long, toned legs. He wants to kiss and lick and savor every inch of her.

He presses one hand against her softly rounded stomach, delighting in the way she trembles as his other brushes down over her hip. His finger slip over the band of her panties, and they itch to dip inside.

Oliver holds her tight. "You are so beautiful."

Her breath catches, her head bowing bashfully. He moves the hand on her stomach up, his fingertips brushing the underside of her breast. Her breathing grows heavier, both of them watching, savoring the feel of the skin-to-skin contact. Her heart's pounding just as fast as his is.

Oliver's thumb slips up the gentle curve and brushes over her nipple.

With a ragged moan, Felicity covers his hand and pushes it all the way up until the soft flesh of her breast is pressed firmly into his palm.

"Oh… god," she whispers. He honestly has no idea which of them is taking the stilted breaths or who's breathing faster. Her hand's still on his as he squeezes her gently and her back bows, pressing her lush ass right into his painfully hard dick.

Oliver lets out a choked hiss, pulling her closer, and Felicity rolls her hips back into his, making him jerk against her. She whispers his name, her voice so full of need that it has him positively throbbing for her… and the hand that still lingers on her hip shifts closer to her center. He grazes the front of her panties, barely, but he can still feel how wet they are, making his need for her spike. She's shaking, her body tightening with anticipation, and they stay just like that, almost suspended in time… if it lasts an eternity or five seconds, Oliver's not sure.

He presses his hand closer, but it's not close enough. Felicity's other hand suddenly shoots down, covering his as she spreads her legs. She pushes him right against her sex, his fingers slipping through the wet material, just like downstairs, except this… this is so much more. So much better.

She's nodding rapidly, gasping, "Yes… please…" and that's all he needs.

Oliver pulls his hand away from hers just enough to shove his fingers underneath the band of her panties. He cups her sex, his eyes slamming shut, moaning her name when he feels how hot she is.

"Oliver."

A guttural groan sounds from deep in her chest and she grabs his wrist, holding on as he explores. God, she's soaking wet, and it feels amazing as he spreads her juices, touching her everywhere from her entrance to right above her tender clit. Oliver fights the urge to yank her closer, forcing himself to remain still as her hips rotate against his hand, her body jerking beautifully each time his fingers graze her sensitive little bud. His pants are too damn tight, and with each brush of her ass against him, he feels his control slipping more and more… but at the same time, he could do this forever.

Felicity's whimpers fill the air as he concentrates on her clit. Her breaths come out in uneven pants, her skin growing hotter, a dark flush spreading across her chest as he rubs. She's whispering his name under her breath, over and over, and he wants more, he wants it louder.

Oliver's hand speeds up, earning him a low keen. His grip on her breast tightens when he feels her legs give out slightly at the increased pressure.

He can't believe how much he wants to feel her come again, it's like a drug - the sounds she makes, the complete and total loss of control, the pure pleasure evident in every line of her body...

"Oh... oh god," she whimpers. "Yes..."

Oliver presses his face against hers until he finds her ear. He sucks her lobe between his lips, making her jerk with a violent shiver that has her nipples hardening even more. Her soft cries grow louder with increasing urgency, her muscles quivering… and then her hips suddenly still, her mouth falling open in soundless cry as she hits that gorgeous little peak right before…

She comes with a loud shout, her back bowing as pleasure floods her veins, her juices soaking his fingers. Her legs give out and Oliver tightens his arm around her, keeping her flush against him, holding her up, reveling in the aftershocks rocking through her.

"You're so amazing, Felicity," he whispers, barely feeling his own need as he flies with her, absently thinking he could watch her come like that forever.

It's barely a couple of seconds before she finds her feet again, her hands gripping him tightly, her chest rising and falling with breaths so rapid he wonders if she's actually getting oxygen.

He pulls his hand out of her panties, spreading his wet fingers over her lower stomach as she comes down. He kisses her ear, her temple, her jaw, her heart rate finally starting to slow, her breaths growing more even.

She sighs, shifting, like her skin feels different all of a sudden… shifting right against him.

Like his hand has a life of its own, he pulls her in, his hips surging forward, and just like that, his need for her comes back with vicious fervor.

Oliver digs his face into her neck, pulling her even closer with a harsh, "Felicity."

She spins in his arms, a rasped, "Oliver," on her lips before she's pushing herself up onto her toes, cupping his face to pull him down to her level…

The kiss is searing, drawing a delicate whimper out of him as he wraps himself around her. Her naked breasts press into his chest and he groans, hauling her closer, his hands sprawling across the width of her back. And then one slips down, right over her backside - Oliver grips her ass tight, earning him a long, low whine, and he only wants more. He kisses her harder. She's never close enough, not ever, and he wants so much more. He needs more… and he can have it. They both can.

Felicity pushes herself flush against him, her lower stomach pressing right against his straining erection, making Oliver moan, deep in his chest. He thrusts his hips against her mindlessly, seeking that delicious friction. Slipping a hand up to the back of her neck, he angles her head, deepening the kiss, nearly ravaging her all over again in his haste to touch her, to feel her.

It's a culmination of the last two days, of the emotional journeys they've both taken, separately and together. It's the quiet moments and the ones that damn near screamed their intensity, only pushing them closer, deepening the bond they'd already shared. It's tangible, this thing between them, and it runs so deep into his foundations that Oliver can't believe he never let himself give in before, never let himself go like this... But he couldn't, not with anyone else. Only with her, only with his Felicity. She makes him so much better, she adds so much, and it's the fact that she demands the same in return that has him melting before her, giving her everything he is.

He wants to give her everything, he wants her to have it all, to take it all, to share it with him, and that's something he's never felt before.

Oliver knows it should be terrifying, because he's always run from anything like this. Always… but not with her. Never with her. With her he's just Oliver - he's himself in a way he never has been before, and it's the most effortless feeling in the entire world.

To think he'd once believed he couldn't have this, that he couldn't be with her.

He wants to bury himself as deep as he possibly can inside her. He wants her to see the changes she's inspired in him, what she's done for him, and what he wants to do for her, in every way possible. She makes him so much stronger in ways he'd never imagined, ways he wants to show her, ways he wants to thank her for…

God, he wants to worship her.

With a ragged gasp, Oliver pulls back. Their gazes lock, and not breaking eye contact, not once, he leans down. His chest brushes over her breasts, her nipples, and he knows each and every time one of his scars touches her because she jerks, her pupils blowing wide. It'll only be later when he thinks back to this moment that he realizes for the first time ever he doesn't feel the burden behind all the marks his five years away left him with.

His hands slide down over her hips, down her naked thighs, and she gives him a series of beautiful, breathlessly needy sounds. Her eyelids slip shut for a second at the sensation and he wants to spend an entire damn day doing just that… but that's for later, because right now she's so warm, so smooth; she feels so good under his calloused touch, a softness he'd never have let himself have a few short days ago.

Oliver's fingers ghost over her skin, moving back up, over the thin lace of her panties, and then he wraps one arm around her waist while his other hand grips her thigh, picking her up in one smooth motion.

Felicity gasps, grabbing his shoulders for balance. He cradles her close, holding her like she weighs nothing, and she might as well. She's light as a feather in his arms, because she makes him feel just as light. He could carry her for miles, even though he knows she wouldn't let him, knows she'd rather do it herself. But the fact that he can… it satisfies something deep inside him, something he hadn't realized had been starved until he's turning with her in his arms, making his way to the bed.

To their bed.

A thrill of that damn nervous excitement shoots through him again and he grips her tighter. He can feel the heat emanating from between her legs and he moves faster, digging his fingers into her as she wraps an arm around his neck, her other hand cupping his cheek, turning his face up to hers.

Her kiss is soft, gentle… loving, a cleansing light that washes through him.

Before he knows it, his knees hit the bed. Oliver turns, his lips never leaving hers, sitting down and pulling her to straddle his lap. His inner core strains slightly, long enough to remind him that he's absolutely doing things he has no business doing considering all the trauma his body has been through lately, but he absolutely does not care. Just as quickly as the punishment of his body starts, it's gone. And it fades to a distant memory when she sinks down, pressing herself against him, right where he needs her.

Oliver's hands fly to her hips, tugging her down even further.

"Yes…"

Felicity rotates her hips, her head falling back. Oliver takes complete advantage, winding his arms around her, pulling her closer to press a series of soft, wet kisses over her chest… and down, down to one of her nipples. They're already hardening again, even though she just came, and he has to taste her.

"Oh god… Oliver!" she cries, her back arching.

They're so sensitive.

He sucks her nipple into his mouth, rolling his tongue around it. Her hips move with more urgency, her body curling around his, her face pressing into his hair. The rush of exhale that skates down his neck is scaldingly hot, her fingers grip him tightly… she tastes so, so good. She shudders, pushing him closer, her hips moving with even more alacrity.

When she comes down with one particularly hard thrust, her teeth digging into her lip so hard she might as well draw blood, she starts to shake, her body growing hotter, and it sends him into overdrive. With a bone-deep shudder, Oliver releases her breast and turns his face up to hers, his hand flying to the back of her head to pull her face back to his.

They crash together again as Oliver wraps his arm around her waist, lifting her up. She winds her legs around him, keeping herself close as he spins, dropping her onto the bedspread. Felicity instantly spreads her legs, just like she did the night before, and he sinks down against her.

She's so hot and she feels so good…

"God, Felicity," Oliver groans, pressing his hips into hers. It's just like last night, all over again, and he knows that, he tells himself to stop, but he can't. She feels too good, too damn good, and this time he's feeling more through his pants and her wet panties. Felicity nods rapidly, her hands pulling his face back to hers as he thrusts again, and again, pushing them both higher, and higher… but not yet, not yet.

It's moving so fast, too damn fast, and he's afraid if he doesn't put the brakes on, he might not stop, and he wants…

He doesn't even know.

No, he wants her. Now.

"Me too," she whispers, nodding, like he'd said that out loud. "Now… now. Please."

Oliver nods, gasping, "Felicity…" and then, with one last kiss that leaves his head spinning, Oliver pushes himself off her, his hands flying to his pants. He can't look away from her, he doesn't want to - she's absolutely gorgeous, her hair already tangled from his hands, glowing in the sunlight, her skin covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Oliver tugs the pants off, leaving him in nothing but his boxers when a thought hits him, and he freezes, his eyes slamming shut.

God, he hadn't thought of that. It hadn't even occurred to him.

Oliver spins to his nightstand, wrenching the drawer open.

"What are you…" Felicity starts, propping herself up to see what he's doing, but he doesn't answer, digging through the contents until he finds the box, tucked away in the far corner. With a small triumphant smile, Oliver pulls it out, shaking it. There's still some in there, he realizes with a rush of gratitude. He vaguely hears Felicity's, "Oliver…" as he checks the date.

They're expired.

"Damn it," Oliver breathes. When was the last time he'd had a girl in his room? It was before the island, way before then. Shit. "Felicity…"

"Oliver." His head snaps back to her as she sits up. Felicity reaches for him, grabbing his arm, pulling him back to her. "I'm covered. We're good."

His heart leaps at that - it positively fucking leaps at that - but he still hesitates, because…

"And I trust you," she continues, nodding, wrapping her arm around his wrist, pulling him to her. "I trust you."

"Felicity," Oliver chokes out, shaking his head. He drops the box and it lands with a light thud. "Are you sure? I don't want…"

"I trust you," she whispers again.

That hits him way harder than he could ever have expected. Felicity looks up at him, complete and utter faith filling her eyes. He can't even begin to explain the feeling filling him - her words alone are enough, but the way she's looking at him - her confidence in him, in his ability to keep her safe, in his desire to keep her safe… it hits him right in the chest. He will do anything to keep her safe, anything, and that she knows that, that she believes he will…

How did he get so lucky?

Felicity smiles and pulls on him until he's between her legs. She wraps her arms around him, one hand spanning his lower back, right over the burn scar there, the other hooking into his boxers, tugging them down slightly. Oliver forgets how to do anything as he lets her do whatever she wants, and then he absolutely crashes when she leans forward, pressing a soft kiss to his stomach. Her lips are so gentle and warm and he shivers, his hands slipping through her hair.

She kisses her way across his abdomen, each one chaste and simple, leaving wet little marks in her path as she slowly… slowly… moves lower.

Oliver's entire body seizes at the thought of what she might be doing and he shakes his head - he won't last, he definitely will not last - before he's stepping back, forcing her to drop her arms. He cups her face, her hair still tangled in his fingers as he leans over, whispering her name before he kisses her.

It's quick and hard and before he knows it, he's urging her back again and she goes willingly, crawling back until she's in the center of the bed.

Oliver drinks her in greedily, hanging back long enough to remove her panties… and oh god, he wants to taste her, he wants to feel her thighs around his head, her hands in his hair or gripped tightly in his, her back arching as he licks his way up to the tender little bundles of nerves that he'll suck on until she's a quivering mess, until she has nothing left.

He needs to.

Oliver hooks his fingers in her panties and tugs them down. Felicity lifts her hips to help him, her eyes never leaving his as he drops them on the floor before shoving his boxers down. She opens her arms for him, fully expecting him to crawl back on top of her, her legs spreading, creating the perfect cradle for his hips.

But he has to taste her. It's an actual need surging through him as he stares down at her, his need to sink into her agonizingly painful, but not yet.

"Oliver..."

He crawls back onto the bed, and the most beautiful grin covers her lips as she wraps her arms around him - it brightens her entire face with a happiness that takes his breath away. She's still flushed from a moment ago, her lips swollen and used, little beard burns decorating the delicate skin around her mouth, and Oliver can't not kiss her. It's impossible, he's finding; he'll never get enough of her kisses, not ever.

This one is soft, loving, and it leaves him feeling completely cherished as she opens herself for him. That feeling surges through him, filling him with a light that's blinding... all because of her.

Oliver kisses her once more, twice... and then he kisses her jaw, making his way down her throat. He nips and sucks, taking his time, slowly building her back up again. Her fingers sift through his hair, her nails scraping against his scalp, making him shiver as she hits spots he didn't know were so sensitive until she touches them. He drags his tongue over her collarbone... and then he goes lower.

His lips and tongue dance over her chest, over her breasts. Oliver sucks her nipple back into his mouth. She whispers his name in a string of incoherent sounds, her grip in his hair suddenly tightening to the point of pain. He swirls his tongue around the hardening bead, slowly slipping a hand down her side, drawing his fingers down her ribs, down to her hip, to her thigh.

"Oliver," Felicity pants, shivering. He glances up, her nipple between his teeth to see her lips trembling, her eyes barely open enough to keep watching him. The second their gazes meet, she tugs on his hair, trying to pull him back up. "Please... I need you."

He swipes his tongue over her nipple, eliciting a whimper before he releases her.

"Felicity," he starts, kissing his way to her other breast. "Do you remember what I said downstairs?"

"Hmm?" she manages, want lacing that little noise, furrowing her brow.

Oliver drags his stubble over her breast, something she definitely likes as she lets out a startled cry, pushing herself closer, but it's nothing compared to the sound she makes when he drags his chin right over her hard nipple.

"I told you," he continues, moving lower, littering wet kisses down her stomach, "that I wanted to take my time..." He pauses at her hip bone, sucking on the sensitive skin there before making his way back up over the slope of her stomach, whispering, "That I wanted to taste you, Felicity."

"Oh my god," Felicity whines, shaking her head. "Oliver, you just..." Her words die out though, her body speaking louder than anything she could say. Her hips surge up, her hot naked core rubbing right against his chest. "Oh god."

Oliver smiles, moving down until he reaches the juncture between her thighs. She's a panting, writhing mess, her fists curled up in the sheets, her eyes locked on him as he slips off the bed, getting on his knees before her.

The move has his dick rubbing right along the goddamn mattress, and he bites back a hiss. He's painfully hard, to the point where any movement makes him forget how to breathe, but when he concentrates on her, when he thinks about finally knowing her like this, it's easier to push back.

She's delightfully pink and swollen, and wet, she's so wet. Felicity lets out a frantic pant as he leans closer, inhaling her scent. His eyes slip back up to find hers on him, her breasts swaying with each breath.

He keeps his eyes on hers as he cups the back of her thighs, spreading her open.

And then Oliver leans in, dragging his tongue up her slit.

Felicity instantly tenses with a sharp, "Ah!" as she undulates under him, pressing herself closer, her hips thrusting up for more.

She's delicious, pure Felicity, and he doesn't waste a second, taking her into his mouth, licking and sucking, tasting more of her.

Her whimpers slowly grow into needy gasps, which morph into low moans of his name as he watches her watch him. It's so much more than anything he could have expected, so much more, and the intensity of her eyes on him amplifies everything to blinding levels. He flattens his tongue, rubbing it right against her clit, and Felicity gasps, her hips rolling up to meet him, her hands flying to his head. She pushes her fingers through his hair, her hands dropping to caress his face, her eyes never leaving his.

Dropping her thighs onto his shoulders, Oliver's hands find hers. Their fingers lace together tightly, holding onto each other, her nails digging into the back of his hands.

Oliver wraps his lips around her clit, relishing the myriad of sensations on her face as they hit her. Her cries grow louder, and they echo through the room. Her heels dig into his back, her thighs tightening around him, her hips starting to move with more urgency.

He sees the moment her next orgasm is cresting - her breasts tightening, her stomach muscles quivering, her thighs shaking. He sucks harder.

Her back bows and she cries out his name, quickly followed by, "Ah… aah!" before he tugs her back down, redoubling his efforts.

Felicity suddenly shakes her head rapidly, dropping his hands to grab his face again.

"Oliver, c'mere," she moans desperately. His cock aches at the sound, his hips thrusting up against the bed as she pulls at him. "C'mere, c'mere, I need you, please. I want you inside me when I... please."

There's no power on this earth that would have him ignoring that request.

Oliver pulls away from her, wiping his face, something that makes her moan, sitting up slightly to touch him as he crawls back onto the bed. Felicity wraps her arms around his shoulders, pulling him down over her, spreading her legs for him.

She doesn't hesitate to kiss him, tugging his bottom lip into her mouth. She swipes her tongue over it and Oliver's meets her halfway, desire for her nearly ripping his damn body in half at the thought of her tasting herself on his lips.

The need for oxygen quickly becomes too much though, both of them breathing too hard. Oliver sinks into her embrace, sighing as he settles against her like it's the most natural thing in the world, as if this is the one single place he's meant to be forever.

And it is.

That thought has him pausing as it hits him: this is it. This is home. He's finally right where he's supposed to be.

With her.

He slips through her wetness, making them both gasp. Oliver pulls his hips back, reaching between them to grasp himself. He groans - God, he's so sensitive. His eyes never leave hers as he presses against her, sliding the head of his cock against her slit. Her brow creases with pleasure and she whispers his name, her eyes glazing over as she grasps him tighter.

Oliver finds her entrance, and he slowly presses himself into her. His eyes nearly cross at the silken feel of her inner walls closing in around him, but the sight of her experiencing it right along with him keeps his gazed locked on her.

"Oh…" Felicity gasps, her back arching as he fills her. She digs her nails into his shoulders with one hand, the other slipping into his hair, holding him as he moves, not stopping until he's completely seated inside her. She shudders and, just like before, he finds himself pushing his own needs back as he waits - waits to make sure she's okay, that he can keep going. Felicity wraps her arms around his shoulders, her legs tightening around him, and he takes that as his cue, slowly pulling out, thrusting back in, watching her the entire time. When he pauses again, Felicity shakes her head, pulling him down to her with a harried, "Don't stop, Oliver, don't stop…" before she kisses him.

And he doesn't, he doesn't stop, not for anything. His next thrust is harder, making her shudder, their combined moans getting lost in their soft kisses.

Oliver pushes his arms up underneath her, wrapping her up, holding her as close as he can as they move together, breathe each other's air, connecting in a way that he's never, ever felt before. This moment... it's integral, important, a moment he knows will resonate through the rest of his life.

"I love you," he whispers, over and over, and she whispers it back, her voice slowly becoming more breathless with each thrust. She cups his face, cradling him to her as much as he's cradling her, the words a litany on her lips, "I love you."

Oliver kisses her lips, her cheek, her jaw, following the line down to her throat as their pleasure builds. He takes his time, making love to her, his body starting to shake with the effort. His pace increases, his thrusts gaining more force. He presses his forehead to hers, their lips grazing, their cries mingling as she meets him, each and every single one, rocking against the other. She feels so good, so perfect around him… and he wants to feel her flying apart around him, hear her gorgeous cries and her whimpering his name… Oliver angles his hips, hiking his knee up for more leverage and she lifts her legs, wrapping them around his waist, sending him deeper.

It's perfect. It's everything.

"Oh god," Felicity suddenly whispers, her breathing turning shallow and rapid. She digs her nails in, nodding desperately, her body starting to tremble. And as if they're tied together, his own pleasure suddenly spikes, sending him higher than he's ready for, the white hot burn coiling at the base of his spine, sending heated tingles along his every nerve.

Oliver groans, squeezing his eyes shut, whispering her name.

"Oh god, Oliver… don't stop… Oliver…!"

He doesn't stop, he won't stop… but he's so close…

Felicity's cries grow louder, her body tightening, but it's not enough. Oliver blindly yanks one hand out from under her and pushes it between them, lifting his hips just enough to find her clit. His muscles burn from the effort but he barely feels it as his fingers slide over her slick little pearl, making her cry out so loud it echoes. Oliver rubs her, urgently, the little bud swelling under his touch as his hips start to lose all rhythm.

"Oh... god, Felicity…" Oliver grits his teeth, burying his face in her neck, concentrating on her, holding her as tightly as he can as they move against each other. His cries grow louder, and hers echo in his ear, her grip on him growing tighter and tighter until…

Felicity comes with a sharp cry just as his own pleasure explodes. Oliver falls over the edge with a heavy shout, thrusting into her one last time, his back bowing as he spills into her. He keeps moving, his moans muffled against her shoulder, riding out the bliss, pushing her even higher until he has nothing left, and they collapse into each other.

Silence.

Felicity strokes the back of his neck, her nails drifting through the damp hair there.

Oliver nuzzles her neck, dropping feather-light kisses everywhere he can reach.

When his weight becomes too much, he pulls out of her, despite her protests - "No, don't move… I like it..." - and drops onto the mattress next to her.

Felicity turns into him, meeting him halfway. They wrap their arms around each other, cuddling closer.

I love you.

They make love one more time before finally getting up, but it's only to migrate to the picnic he'd set up. They eat together, talking, relaxing, drinking wine, wrapped together in a sheet off the bed despite the lingering warmth from the day. As the sun slowly sinks, they sit together, Felicity between Oliver's legs, her back resting against his chest. His fingers drift over her arm, and she draws lazy circles on his naked thigh.

When Oliver sees what time it is, he suggests they go downstairs for dinner with Ellie, to which she wholeheartedly agrees.

They take a quick shower - together, even though Felicity tells him there won't be any getting clean in there. He whispers, "Oh yes there will be," before tugging her in with him.

Ellie's delighted giggles meet them at the base of the stairs and with a sharp, "Momma!" she launches herself into Felicity's arms.

After greeting Oliver with a, "Hi, Daddy!" she asks, "Did you guys go on a mission?" Felicity lets out a not-so-subtle cough at that, but before Oliver can answer - what the hell he thought he was going to say is beyond him - Ellie interrupts with, "Ellie kiss! Ellie kiss!"

With a chuckle, Oliver wraps his arms around his girls, pulling them into his chest, all three of them getting in a kiss before Ellie launches into a very detailed story about how she spent her afternoon, including finally getting Uncle Diggle to have a tea party with her and her fairies.

Felicity didn't think it was possible to see John Diggle blush as much as he does when he hears Ellie repeating the story, and she didn't think she could blush as much when Sara sends her a knowing wink while Diggle makes a comment about the length of time they were gone, which makes Oliver huff and roll his eyes.

They eat dinner together, the entire family - Oliver, Felicity, Ellie, Diggle, Lyla, Sara, Moira and Donna - Felicity squirming only slightly at the too-insightful twin gazes of their mothers. It doesn't bother him in the least though. He only laughs when Sara makes a suggestive comment and Felicity turns a gorgeous shade of red as her mother raises an eyebrow at him. He covers the mild discomfort of that look on his mother's face with a sip of wine, but he can't really be bothered about this. Not when everything is so amazing. Not when he's basking in how incredibly perfect his life is for the first time ever.

Later, when they go upstairs, both of them still floating on a cloud, Felicity announces bathtime for Ellie. Their daughter grabs a giant yellow rubber ducky that Moira had included with the items that'd been in their room that morning - this ducky's name is Sir Waddlesworth the Fourth, and he's just like one she has at their home, whose name is Sir Waddlesworth the Third. What happened to Sir Waddlesworth the First and Second, Ellie doesn't say. The girls file into the bathroom, Felicity blowing Oliver a kiss before closing the door. A second later, Ellie opens it and blows him a kiss as well.

When Oliver hears a giant splash and Felicity's shocked cry, he runs over to check on them only to find Felicity completely covered in water - outside the tub - and Ellie giggling like mad inside where there's significantly less water now, Sir Waddlesworth the Fourth clutched in her arms.

As Oliver starts laughing, much to Felicity's chagrin, a huge grin splits Ellie's face as she says, "I told you he makes a big splash, Momma!"

"You think this is funny?" Felicity asks Oliver, raising her eyebrows at him. He can't answer, still chuckling, which is when she strikes. Felicity launches herself forward, grabbing his wrist and tugging him closer, yelling, "Get Sir Waddlesworth, Ellie-bug!"

They effectively splash Oliver with so much water that all three of them are soaking wet by the time bath time over. So is the floor, but it's only soapy water and that's a small price to pay for the ringing sound of his girls' laughter that echoes in his ears.

As Oliver and Felicity dry off in the closet, she makes another comment apologizing to her future-self because not only will their child curse in the classroom, she'll be an unruly bath-taker. It makes Oliver laugh again, and he pulls her into his arms, kissing her until they're both breathless. As they part, they have every intention of that being the end of it… but it's not, not at all. Kissing her, he's quickly finding out, is like throwing gasoline on a fire - it escalates quickly, with Felicity practically climbing him like a tree, pushing him into a wall of hanging clothing…

That is, until Ellie swings the door open, asking them what's taking so long.

When it's time for bedtime, Ellie crawls into the pillow castle, making her parents go in with her. She grabs a book - Oliver makes a mental note to thank his mother, she truly thought of everything - and hands it to Felicity.

"The story about the purple bee, Momma."

Felicity lays back against the makeshift bed Ellie had put together.

Ellie crawls under her left arm and Oliver claims her right side. They both pillow their heads on her shoulders, something that makes Felicity grin so broadly that joy practically radiates off of her.

Oliver holds one side of the book while Felicity reaches around Ellie to hold the other.

Ellie's asleep by the tenth page and after reading a few more for good measure, Felicity closes the book, pressing a soft kiss to her daughter's forehead before doing the same to Oliver's, whose eyes are growing heavy with sleep. She cuddles her family closer, closing her eyes for a second, whispering to herself they'll just stay a few more minutes…

They all fall asleep, right there.

When Oliver wakes in the morning, he has to blink a few times, taking a second to realize they'd slept the whole night in the pillow castle… and that the noises that'd woken him are coming from Felicity and Ellie. They're still lying tucked under the afghan - the very same one that's barely covering him now, the bed hogs. They're facing